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Light Novel: Sword Art Online

"What's the difference between the real world and the virtual one?"
Asuna

Imagine that gaming has advanced to the point where you no longer watch from the other side of the television screen, but are right there in the world, experiencing full immersion of all your senses and controlling your character as easily as your own body.

The first game to utilize this technology is Sword Art Online, a fantasy MMORPG created by the inventor of the very device used to play it. However, a sinister trap awaits the first ten thousand players who log into the system: they discover that they cannot log out, effectively trapping them within the game.

The creator of the game issues an ultimatum: complete the game by defeating the Final Boss on the 100th floor, and they will be allowed to log out. However, if a player's HP is ever reduced to zero, then the helmet used to play the game will unleash a pulse of microwave radiation that will fry their brain, killing them in the real world. What's more, the same thing will happen if anyone in the real world attempts to remove them from the game by force.

A swordsman player named Kirito is one of the fated ten thousand. He holds the advantage of having been involved in the beta test, giving him prior knowledge of the game layout and its combat systems, but he struggles to make attachments and prefers being a solo player. Now he and every other player in Sword Art Online must fight to survive in a virtual world that has become all too real to them.

As of this writingnote  there are six main arcs:

    List Of Arcs 
  • Aincrad: The original story, set in the world of Sword Art Online.
    • Progressive: An Interquel to the Aincrad arc, released in 2013. It reboots some of the events of the original novel while expanding the world and characters. The first chapter of the novel, Aria in the Starless Night, which describes the moment Kirito and Asuna meet for the first time, was included in the anime even before the novel was published.
  • Fairy Dance: Two months after the "SAO Incident," three hundred players have yet to awaken from their comatose states. When Kirito is sent a blurry screenshot depicting one of these players in another MMO called "ALfheim Online," he dives into the game to free her from the virtual world once and for all.
  • Phantom Bullet: An arc set in a game called "Gun Gale Online," an MMO that focuses on guns and shooting instead of swordplay and magic. When a mysterious assassin called "Death Gun" seems to be murdering players by killing their virtual avatars, Kirito is called upon to enter the game and solve the mystery.
  • Caliber: Set shortly after the Phantom Bullet arc, Kirito gathers many of his friends from the various games he has played in order to take on one of the most challenging quests in the reborn ALO: recovering the game's Infinity+1 Sword, Excaliber [sic].
  • Mother's Rosario: Set after the the Phanton Bullet and Caliber arc, this one has the particularity that the main character is actually Asuna, instead of Kirito. While playing ALO, Asuna encounters a mysterious swordswoman named Yuuki whose combat skill is said to surpass even Kirito's. She is recruited to help Yuuki and her guild, the "Sleeping Knights," achieve the feat of soloing one of Aincrad's fearsome floor bosses, an achievement that would immortalise their names on the Monument of Swordsmen.
  • Project Alicization: Kirito awakens in an unfamiliar virtual world (called "Underworld") with no memories of how he got there. He must venture to discover the secrets behind this world and why he has been trapped within it, all while questioning whether he is the real Kirito or merely an Artificial Intelligence in his likeness.

The first novel was written between 2001 and 2002 by Reki Kawahara with the intention of competing for the ASCII Media Works' Dengeki Game Novel Prize. However, he surpassed the page limit for the contest, so he instead published it as a web novel under the pseudonym Fumio Kunori. Over time, he added three further volumes and several short stories. Eventually, the light novel got browsing numbers exceeding 6.5 million page views recorded at the personal website. However, it wasn't until after Kawahara won the prize in 2008 with Accel World that Sword Art Online got published and spawned several adaptations:

  • A manga series, all written by Kawahara himself, but illustrated by different artists depending on the storyline. So farnote , the arcs Aincrad, Fairy Dance, Mother's Rosario and Caliber have been completed, with Phantom Bullet still ongoing. Also in July 2013 started the adaptation of Sword Art Online Progressive, this time with the particularity that the narrative is from Asuna's perspective.
  • The anime adaptatation started on July 7, 2012, for the Summer 2012 lineup. People from many countries may watch it legally on Crunchyroll. At New York Comic Con, Aniplex USA announced home video release for the series and announced an English dub. The dub premiered on US television on Toonami on July 27, 2013 and premiered in Australia on ABC3 on June 7, 2014.
    • In August 2013, Aniplex announced the first OVA, titled "Sword Art Online EXTRA EDITION." It premiered in Japan on New Year's Eve 2013note , and the next day in several countries via Crunchyroll and Daisuki. At the very end of the OVA, the second season of the anime, titled "Sword Art Online II," was announced. It covers the Phantom Bullet arc, which comprises books 5 and 6 of the light novel series, and it premiered on July 5th, 2014. It also covers the Caliber and Mother's Rosario arcs. The season can be followed internationally also through Crunchyroll and Daisuki, and it is currently one of the most requested shows for Toonami.
  • Four games were made based on the light novels. They consist of Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment for the PSP, Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment for the PS Vita and a social network game for Japanese smart phones called Sword Art Online: End World. Currently, Hollow Fragment is released outside of Japan to Asia with PSN releases to the Americas, Europe and Oceania. It also includes an enhanced version of Infinity Moment. The latest game is Sword Art Online: Lost Song, scheduled for an Asia-wide release in English and Japanese for the Playstation 3 and Vita.
  • Web Voice drama found here.

The light novels have been licensed in the US by Yen Press for release in 2014.

For a similar premise, see also .hack and Log Horizon. Also see Accel World, penned by the same author and set in the same universe twenty years later.

Note that this is a long-running series, so beware of potential unmarked spoilers.

Tropes in "Sword Art Online" include:

  • Abridged Series: Sword Art Online Abridged.
  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: In every arc, Kirito ends up playing for more than fun one way or another.
    • All SAO players are trapped there and can only escape by A) Someone beating the final boss or B) Dying (for real).
    • ALO is just fun for everyone except the 300 players from the previous game trapped there, including Asuna, and a desperate Kirito trying to rescue her.
    • In GGO, Kirito's mission is to discover how people playing a supposedly harmless game are being Killed Off for Real.
    • UW is another game that starts harmless at first until Kirito is trapped there and starts fighting for his sanity.
    • Even the Caliber side story is rather serious since Cardinal has drawn on Norse mythology for this quest and failure results in freaking Ragnarok happening.
  • The Ace: Ignoring his moments of angst, Kirito is usually this trope, which is rare for a Light Novel protagonist.
  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: The series have lots of it:
    • SAO for Sword Art Online.
      • Aincrad for An Incarnating Radius.
      • Some guilds have acronyms they also go by: KoBnote ; DDAnote ; ALFnote ; WWFMnote .
    • ALO for ALfheim Online.
      • OSS for Original Sword Skill.
    • GGO for Gun Gale Online.
      • BoB for Bullet of Bullets.
  • Action Girl: Asuna. Not only was she an idol in SAO, she also happens to be one of the strongest female characters in the game. Other girls that Kirito meets along his way are also included; e.g., Shinon in Volume 6.
  • A Darker Me: There's a group of players that go around killing other players and stealing their items. Lampshaded when Kirito remarks that online players act very different from how they would in real life.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The anime has moments of this, simplifying down the scenes of the light novel. For example, stripping "Aria in the Starless Night" down to the boss fight.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Some in the anime, loads in the manga. Want to know how Kirito and Asuna met? Or who those people he keeps flashing back to are? Or where the term "beater" originated? Read the novels or watch the anime.
    • In the anime, the titular Sword Arts are this. The book goes into detail on how they're activated, their names, and their role in gameplay. The anime just has the characters mention Sword Arts on occasion and never elaborates.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Some Fridge Horror comes into play when you realize the amount of children that were playing the game that got trapped inside. Sure, most of them were rescued by sympathetic players, but there had to be quite a few that didn't make it. Kirito and Asuna also experience this when they witness Yui's temporary Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Anyone who has ever played any other massive online multiplayer game knows that some of the most infuriatingly good players are children. In a video game world, you'd expect that kids wouldn't ordinarily need the help. And it's likely that, statistically speaking, they have the same potential strength as the adults. However, in a game where dying really kills you and there's no way to leave, the context is totally different. Having the kids join the battles would essentially be making them into actual child soldiers.
    • Through the Fairy Dance arc, Kirito and Asuno experience more adult fear: Kirito is constantly stressed and worried over Asuna's condition throughout the story, and nearly breaks when Sugou threatens to steal Asuna from him, while poor Asuna finds herself trapped and at the mercy of a vile man who pretends to be nice in front of her father.
  • An Aesop:
    • Never give up on anything that you consider to be worth fighting for.
    • Always own your actions; you cannot compartmentalize who you really are.
    • When people's lives are on the line, speak up, even if they'll hate you for it. Better that than spending the rest of your life knowing, "I could have saved a life that day, but I chose to look the other way."
  • Animation Bump: There's a noticeable step up in animation during episode 13 of the second season during the climax of Kirito and Death Gun's duel, especially right before Kirito slices Death Gun in half.
  • Agitated Item Stomping: When Kirito initially discovers that the Holy Stone of Returning Souls only works within ten seconds, this is his reaction.
  • A God Am I: The reason why Akihiko Kayaba created Sword Art Online, with all of its "unique" features, in the first place was so that he could have his own little world where he could play God — a game that just is not the same without power over life and death.
    • Alicization: Administrator becomes this when she basically learns all the admin commands for the Underworld. In quick order, she assumes supreme control of all of the Human Realms and sets up a bunch of Commandments for all to follow.
    • Alicization: Played with when Gabriel signs in with a superuser account, as the Dark God Vector. He's not really into the whole megalomania thing, but he plays along with his role to lead the dark territory army effectively.
  • A God I Am Not: Alicization - Unlike Gabriel above, when Asuna, Shinon, and Leafa sign on using their superuser accounts as the remaining 3 gods of the Underworld (with all their attributes and powers), they're very quick to point out they're not actually gods, just people. Not everyone believes them.
  • A House Divided: The party that Diabel attempted to put together in Episode 2 nearly falls apart due to his friend Kibaou being very mistrustful of beta testers. After they defeat the first floor boss, the hard-earned celebration is cut short by Kibaou who accuses Kirito of indirectly causing Diabel's death and again calls for a witch hunt of beta testers. Realizing the rift that Kibaou was causing, Kirito attempts to have them channel their hatred towards him instead, and acts as the Token Evil Teammate so as to not have the players start fighting amongst themselves.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Inverted in the Alicization arc. Scientists create a virtual world in which to grow military AIs, but discover that they've developed into a Utopian society where the concept of harming another is unthinkable.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Kirito's Gender Bender avatar in the Gun Gale Online arc, complete with Hair Flip and all.
  • Alternate Continuity: The video game for the Playstation Portable, Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment, starts off with Kirito killing Akihiko Kayaba but the game continues on to floor 76 and beyond.
    • That's not the point of departure, though. Sachi is still alive and Gun Gale Online is created much earlier than in canon.
  • Always Someone Better: Possibly invoked by Yuuki, the Zekken, who even beats Kirito, at least in single-wielding mode. Justified because Yuuki is the Guild Leader of the "Sleeping Knights," a group of terminally ill people, and specifically is the first user of the MediCuboid. This causes them to play an absurd number of hours, even longer than the SAO players who were trapped for over two years straight inside of a game and are otherwise the most experienced players on the planet.
    • Akihiko Kayaba was the someone better to Sugou, the Big Bad of the Fairy Dance arc, which prompts him to create ALfheim Online and launch his plan.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Downplayed. Two thousand SAO players die in the first month of the game, before clearing the first floor, mostly due to inexperience not only with the game's mechanics, but with the concept of actually dying, as three hundred of them were experienced beta testers. Just to rub it in, there's a plinth where the resurrection point in the first town should be, bearing not only the names of the dead, but the manner in which they died. By the time the game is cleared, only 6,147 players are left alive. Survivor Guilt is pretty much universal.
  • Amusing Injuries: The Armor-Piercing Slap Kirito receives from Sinon after he reveals his true gender to her in Episode 5 of Season 2. After said slap, the next scene shows a bright red handprint on his cheek as the two walk around the room with the other Bo B contestants, although it quickly vanishes afterward.
  • Anachronic Order: Volume 1 proceeds more or less chronologically, while Volume 2 consists of sidestories that take place during the 2 years in SAO. Volumes 3 to 7 proceed chronologically, but Volume 8 adds more sidestories that take place in SAO and a week before Volume 7.
    • Averted by the anime, which seems to be doing its best to proceed in a chronological order by animating the SAO sidestories in Volume 2 and Volume 8 before the rest of Volume 1.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: The Christmas event boss, Nicholas the Renegade, promises copious amounts of treasure, including an item that can revive the dead, to whomever can defeat him. This leads to Kirito taking down Nicholas single-handedly while Fuurinkazan holds off the Divine Dragon Alliance.
    • The fight against the 21st Floor Boss of New Aincrad occurs on Christmas Eve. Kirito and Asuna make sure to take part in it so they can buy their old house on the 22nd Floor before anyone else gets the chance.
  • And I Must Scream: After Kirito cleared [SAO], a few hundred players (including Asuna) remained comatose. This was because the devs behind ALfheim Online intercepted their minds and experimented on them in order to research mind control. Thankfully by the time it ended, those who received this treatment except Asuna did not remember the incident at all.
    • Yui was created to monitor players' psychological parameters and offer them comfort. After the game began she was not allowed to interact with the players, so for 2 years she was forced to just watch as some of them went insane and commited suicide.
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: Possible drops from monsters.
    • The Coat of Midnightnote  from defeating the first floor boss.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: The English dub of Episode 22 has Suguha saying "I love you" towards Kazuto before telling him to leave her alone due to not taking well of the revelation that he and Kirito are one and the same person.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Kirito attempts to refuse Kikuoka's offer to help him investigate the deaths of certain high ranking GGO players in Episode 1 of Season 2, stating he doesn't want to risk getting killed after hearing about the unusual circumstances surrounding said deaths. However, Kikuoka says that if they can't get to the bottom of this and solve the mystery, the government may start to restrict access to online games, which goes against what Kayaba was hoping to promote when he gave Kirito "the seed" from season 1. Kirito reluctantly agrees to help him out by playing GGO.
  • Anti-Hero: Kirito starts off as this, choosing to protect only himself, while attempting to complete the game. He changes later.
  • Anyone Can Die: Due to the GM making that the new rule, this is in effect, and they're also killed in the real world if their character's HP reaches 0.
    • Even characters that you think are going to be mains because they appear in the opening wind up biting it.
  • Apple of Discord: A particular guild (called, appropriately enough, Golden Apple) found a rare item that granted a substantial stat boost to its wearer. Some guild members wanted to sell it for money, while others believed it would be better to keep it for themselves. The decision was put to vote, and the majority agreed it should be sold. The guild leader went off personally to sell it, but died mysteriously. Because of suspicions that the murderer was a fellow guild member, the guild fell apart. In a subversion, it was later discovered that the person behind the guild leader's death had a completely unrelated motive, and took advantage of the rare item dispute to avoid suspicion.
  • Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age: As the Phantom Bullet arc is set within an MMOFPS, guns are the primary weapons. There is a sword available out of the various melee options, but it is largely regarded as a Joke Item. Kirito, being the hero, picks it and manages to slice bullets in half.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • When Asuna's mother gets on her case about spending time with her friends and going to the SAO rehab school rather than putting all of her efforts into studying to get into a prestigious school:
      Asuna: [To her mother] Do you still feel ashamed about your dead parents, resentful that you were born by a farmer rather than a famous house with history?
    • When Sinon asks Kirito how he became strong:
      "If that gun's bullet could kill the real world player, and then, if you do not kill, then either you or someone important to you will be killed, would you pull the trigger?"
  • Armor-Piercing Slap:
    • After Kirito turns into a monster to save himself and Leafa in Episode 19 of the anime, she asks him what players taste like. He claims it's like yakiniku before it's burnt, then jokingly bites her hand. She delivers one of these to him as a result, and in the next scene he has a very visible and red hand-print on his cheek. Yui tells him he totally deserved that one.
    • Played for Laughs in episode 5 of season 2, after Sinon discovers Kirito's true gender. Not helped by the fact that Sinon was changing into her battle outfit and was just in her underwear when Kirito decides to reveal it.
  • Artifact Title: The titular game and the struggle to clear it are merely the first story arc of the series. Justified because it was originally written as a one-shot series, with the series being continued later.
  • Art Shift: The Light Novels have a more subtle art style compared to the manga, which is Darker and Edgier.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Played straight, in that great warriors are the ones making up the front-line guilds, and leaders are often picked for their fighting talent. This and Authority Equals Asskicking are mixed, to create some VERY powerful front-line leaders. For example, Heathcliff is the leader of the game's most powerful guild, and he is arguably the game's most powerful swordsman, thanks to his incredible reflexes, his impossible speed, his truly invulnerable shield, and his incredible sword. Of course, he turns out to be Akihiko Kayaba in disguise, so that explains a lot. Averted in that Kirito, a solo player, is also arguably the game's most powerful swordsman.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Though Kirito can most certainly play things defensively well enough, it's when he starts to go on the offensive that his opponents had better watch out, especially when he's Dual Wielding, as nothing but either their defeat or his own will stop him.
  • Attempted Rape:
    • Suguou is very close to raping Asuna in the virtual world. In front of Kirito. Afterwards, he plans on raping her in real life, while she's comatose.
    • Kyouji tries to rape Shino after the Bullet of Bullets tournament. He did genuinely love her before the Death Gun mess went down, and Shino was even willing to reciprocate once she got over her trauma, but the combination of failing his college entrance exams and being rendered irrelevant in GGO drove him insane, prompting him to form the Death Gun conspiracy. When he comes to congratulate her on winning the Bullet of Bullets Tournament, he expects Shino to make good on her promise, but she's freaked out by his now obvious insanity, so he opts for Plan B: rape Shino and then kill her and himself. Shino manages to escape by struggling and Kirito showing up.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Thor as Freya.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: The leaders of guilds (especially front-line guilds) have the best equipment, which tends to make them more powerful (see Asskicking Equals Authority above). Also, the game's boss monsters seem to play this fairly straight, if you can consider them to have "Authority".
    • This takes a whole new level in Alicization, since "Authority" is how the strength and power of the AIs living in Underwold is measured
  • Ax-Crazy: After paralyzing Godfrey and Kirito with a poisoned drink he created, Kuradeel develops that look on his face as he gleefully hacks away first at Godfrey, and then nearly kills Kirito while both were helpless.
  • Backup Bluff: Kirito does one of these in Episode 20 towards the commander of the Salamander army, stating that he's a Spriggan-Undine ambassador, and that attacking him and the Cait-Sith and Sylph meeting would cause four races to declare war on the Salamanders. The commander doesn't buy it, but challenges Kirito to a duel anyway. After Kirito defeats him, one of his men tells the commander that he saw Kirito the other day with an Undine. Said man was the guy Kirito spared after he saved Leafa during their first encounter in Episode 17. The Salamander army then leave peacefully.
  • Badass: Kirito, frequently, as per his status as The Ace. Clearers, players dedicated to clearing SAO levels and bosses, tend to be this by necessity.
    • Badass Adorable: Asuna and Shinon both have their moments.
    • Badass Crew: Many of the guilds, particularly Knights of Blood and Furinkazan. Later, the Sleeping Knight, defeat a boss with only seven member, and each of them are quite skilled.
    • Badass Longcoat: Kirito gets a few.
    • One-Man Army: see Curb-Stomp Battle.
    • Eugeo becomes quite a badass around Volume 12 onwards of the Alicization Arc, with Kirito noting that he has even more natural skill than Kirito himself, and the only reason he's not ahead is because of Kirito's experience.
  • Badass Boast: Sinon delivers a small one in the Episode 1 of SAO II: "1500 meters? That's like tossing a wad of paper in a wastebasket." That range is within the top 10 longest confirmed sniper kills.
  • Bad Santa: "Nicholas the Renegade" is a special event boss monster.
  • Bag of Spilling: After Kirito converts his SAO character to ALO, he discovers that his SAO equipment isn't compatible and has to discard all of them. It's almost a moot point since he retains his absurdly high stats and ALO is a level-less game, meaning that he can still defeat most players with just his starter/store-bought equipment. He also gets to keep all the money he made in SAO, which becomes a plot point later on.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: SAO II episode 9 ends with a Smash to Black and a gunshot. Episode 10 reveals what happened.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk:
    • The American GGO player who won the game's first BoB tournament goes on to win the fourth tournament using this as his build; his main tactic is to use CQC to beat-down opposing players, steal their guns and use them against other players. Kirito suspects he may be an actual Special Forces soldier in real life.
    • Although it's rarely shown in action, Kirito's Unarmed skill is almost completely maxed out.
  • Battle Couple: Whenever Kirito and Asuna take to the field together, this is the result. Also, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, Thinker and Yuriel in ALO.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Justified within the game worlds, where characters of both genders recover from injuries up to and including dismemberment as their HP regenerate. Subverted in reality, where Kirito reawakens from two years in VR as an emaciated, atrophied husk, but he got better. However, played straight in reality with Asuna, who looks ready to spring straight out of bed and into a fashion shoot in the same circumstances.
    • The latter is justified by Asuna's family being rich enough to buy Argus, the company that produced SAO and the NERVgear. After that, the physical therapy necessary to keep her body from atrophying would be a drop in the bucket.
  • Behemoth Battle: The climax of the Caliber arc has the NPC Freyja reclaim Mjolnir and reveal herself to be the Norse god Thor in disguise, who promptly engages the boss Kirito's party was fighting, Thrym, who is a humanoid giant. Both the NPC and the boss are about 15 meters tall, and it is Thor who lands the killing blow on Thrym.
  • BFS: Occurs only briefly, but when Yui decides to fight, she summons a flaming sword more than twice as long as she is tall.
  • Big Brother Instinct: It's mostly what drove Kirito to help Silica, who reminds him of his sister, and Leafa, who IS his sister. Well, cousin, but raised as brother and sister.
  • Big Damn Heroes: These moments happen from time to time, and usually tend to be quite awesome.
    • In Volume 1, Asuna arrives on the scene as Kuradeel is about to kill Kirito, and schools him completely. In five minutes, she covered a distance that took Kirito's party one hour to travel. See Power of Love below.
    • In the climax of Volume 4, Kirito faces Oberon and gets thoroughly beaten, thanks to the latter's abuse of GM powers to give himself an Infinity+1 Sword and invulnerability. Then Kayaba's ghost speaks to Kirito and inspires him to find a way to give himself greater GM powers and turn the tables on Oberon.
    • And on any occasion Kirito pulls this off by himself or with his buddies. A great example is found in Volume 7, where he and Klein face off against a guild that's 50 members strong. By the time the guild defeats them, their numbers are depleted, and the duo have bought Asuna and the Sleeping Knights enough time to win.
    • Kirito pulls off an epic one when he's forced to save Asuna, Klein's guild, and the remaining party members from the Aincrad Defense Force from the level 74 boss and pretty much goes toe to toe with it, trading hits with the boss, and using his unique skill of dual wielding, in order to beat it. And he defeats it with just a tiny fraction of his health remaining.
  • Big "NO!": The robot cowboy in Episode 4 of Season 2 does one after Kirito manages to make it to the end and win the jackpot.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Invoked in-universe. In the Phantom Bullet arc, Kirito, in searching for Death Gun, has narrowed the list of competitors in the Bullet of Bullets tournament to three possibilities, based on Sinon not recognizing their character names. Eventually, two are eliminated as suspects. The remaining one's character name is "Sterben", which is a German medical term for "death". This tips off Kirito that Kyouji, whom Sinon has mentioned is a doctor's kid, is suspicious.
  • Bishōnen: Kirito provides an example much more so in Volume 6 where his character kinda looks like Yuri from Tales of Vesperia.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Aincrad arc, considering the heavy losses sustained in the course of clearing the game. It's doubtful any of the survivors didn't lose any friends.
  • Black Swords Are Better: One of Kirito's swords in SAO, Elucidator, is pitch black. His main sword in ALO is also black. He also looks set to receive a black sword in Underworld.
    • He does, and it's awesome. It took a full year to craft by a master swordsmith and its "priority" rating (basically weapon strength) is actually one higher than Eugeo's blue rose sword.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • The 9-Up advertisement in Agil's bar, for 7-Up.
    • The first episode of Season 2 has an "iGlass" presentation given by someone who looks halfway between Steve Jobs and Larry Brin.
  • Bloodless Carnage: It's a game, of course it is bloodless. Averted when it comes to real world fights like the one outside the hospital. Also averted in the VR environment, Underworld.
    • The anime manages to get away with gore under a technicality because of this trope. The Phantom Bullet adaptation for one, gets away with digital amputation, digital shotguns fired point blank into a player's face, and even a player's model getting realistically torn in half from a .50 Caliber round and letting us see his 'legs fly into the distance! But hey, there's no blood and it's only a game, so it's okay!
  • Blood Knight: Kayaba must have figured some of the players were, because there's no other reason why there would be a bonus dungeon in a death game.
  • Bonus Dungeon: Two have been featured in the anime.
    • In Aincrad, one appears beneath the Black Iron Castle on the 1st floor after some of the higher floors are cleared. It features its very own Bonus Boss, the Fatal Scythe, which is far stronger than anything else seen in the game to that point, estimated by Kirito to have the abilities of a boss monster from the ninetieth level, a full fifteen levels above where they actually end up reaching before the game is cleared. Fortunately enough, Kirito and Asuna end up skipping it due to Yui's intervention.
    • Another one appears in Extra Edition, located within the southern Sylph area; more specifically, an underwater temple. Kirito and company don't know it is one until they meet an old NPC who gives them a quest to retrieve an item within the dungeon. Fittingly enough, as soon as they obtain it, the old man, Nerakk, reveals himself to be Kraken the Abyss Lord, the dungeon's Bonus Boss. Though he does give the party a serious beatdown, he is interrupted by yet another Bonus Boss, Leviathan the Sea King.
  • Book Ends: Second episode of the anime, Kirito gives Asuna some cream to eat on the plain roll. She can't stop herself from gobbling it down. At the end of the fourth Light Novel (or first anime season/second anime arc) when they finally make it back to the real world, Asuna specializes in making food... that tastes nostalgically like Aincrad-food.
    • At the end of the first anime season, Kirito uses the World Seed to rebuild Aincrad and add it to ALO. He and both his SAO and ALO friends then resolve to finish what they started and clear all 100 floors. He even resets his stats so he can level them up all over again.
  • Boom, Headshot: Dyne gets a wall of buckshot to the face courtesy of Pale Rider during the BoB tournament (S2E9).
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: How Death Gun managed to get his L115A3 suppressed sniper rifle, as opposed to Sinon, who was really lucky.
    • Also at the Alicization Arc, Kirito's opponent bribed the guard in charge of weapons to give him a better sword. Not that it helped.
  • Breakable Weapons: Explained in Volume 2. When Kirito finds a blacksmith girl named Lizbeth and he needs a new sword to practice on, he is given one, but when he tests it out it breaks easily, so they go on a quest to slay a snow dragon to get the metal needed to forge a new weapon.
    • All weapons in SAO, ALO, and GGO require regular maintenance. Lizbeth has a deal with Kirito and Asuna where she'll maintain their weapons for free, in exchange for them endorsing and using her gear (that rivals ultra-rare quest items).
  • Break the Haughty: Silica goes through this prior to her first meeting with Kirito. After leaving her party in a fit of pique, she gets lost, uses up all her healing items, and then her familiar Pina dies saving her. Pina gets better, with some help from Kirito.
  • Breather Episode:
    • In Episode 10, Kirito is lured into a trap, tortured, and nearly murdered by a guildmate, but Asuna shows up to save him at the last moment. They're both very shaken up, finally admit the extent of their feelings for each other, spend the night together, and decide to get married. In Episode 11, Kirito and Asuna take a break from frontline fighting and go on a vacation to the lower levels.
    • The second season's three-episode take on the Caliber arc is this; taking place after the Death Gun case is resolved, it's just about Kirito and his friends going on a quest in ALO for a powerful sword during the holidays. No murders, or any real danger to be had save that if they fail, it kick-starts Ragnarok for the game, but even then, no one will be in any actual danger.
  • Call Back:
    • The first episode of the first season is called "The World of Swords". The second season's first episode is "The World of Guns".
    • Kirito uses the appearance of The Gleam Eyes from SAO as inspiration when using the monster-transformation spell in ALO. The reveal sequence is almost identical, and except for a different color scheme and an extra goatee their appearances are much the same as well.
    • The fact that Heathcliff was actually Akihiko Kayaba becomes important again when it allows Kirito to one-up Sugou in terms of GM privileges by logging in with that ID.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lizbeth to Kirito. She was about to spit it out... and then realized that he's with Asuna.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The video games treat certain elements of the Aincrad and Fairy Dance arcs as this. Yes, it's explicitly an AU, but the system interrupting Kirito's duel with Kayaba can't account for Sachi still being alive, Amusphere users being imported into the death game, or the fact that Gun Gale Online even exists at this point, let alone that Sinon was playing it.
  • The Cavalry: In Episode 23, the Cait-Sith and Sylph forces show up to help Kirito to break through the guardians of the world tree.
  • Character Level: It IS supposed to be an MMORPG... Kirito is explicitly referred to as one of the highest-leveled characters in SAO, though he later resets his stats in ALO.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Subverted with the Divine Stone of the Returning Soul. After finding out that it will only work if used within ten seconds of the player's death, Kirito gives it to Klein and tells him to use it on the next person he sees die. He must have used it somewhere along the line, because it's never seen or even mentioned again, even when a powerful boss one-shots several raid members in a raid containing both Kirito and Klein.
    • Hitting a programmed set-piece displays the message Immortal Object. Logically, this extends to an AI, and it definitely extends to the GM.
    • The Phantom Bullet arc has a literal gun, Kirito's FN Five seveN. He uses it to stop Death Gun from using his Invisibility Cloak at the end of their battle.
    • Due to the anime placing the stories in chronological order, Kirito's mechatronics project becomes this. Kirito intended it to be a way for Yui to interact with the real world, and he shows off a prototype at the finale of the Caliber arc. It's used again in the Mother's Rosario arc to give Yuuki a chance to go to school and see the real world again before she dies.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In a sense, the Gleam Eyes when Kirito uses his illusion magic to turn into him.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • When Kirito transfers his SAO data to ALO, his stats show One-Handed Swords 1000, Unarmed 996, and Fishing 641. The Unarmed skill comes in handy during the denouement of the Fairy Dance arc.
    • After scouting the boss, Kirito mentions that to fight the level 74 boss, they'd need a couple of Stone Wall characters using shields. Asuna asks him about that, and wonders why he never uses a shield despite only using a 1-handed sword. She mentions that she doesn't use one because it slows her rapier attacks down. It turns out that Kirito doesn't use a shield because he learned how to dual wield, and is forced to utilize it in order to defeat the level 74 boss, which surprises all of the characters around him after he barely defeats it. When Klein asks about how he learned it, even Kirito says he's not sure how he managed to acquire the skill, mentioning it showed up in his skill set about 6 months earlier.
    • Guns in GGO leave a bullet prediction line before they fire so that they can be dodged. Sinon uses her gun to make a bullet prediction line to throw off Death Gun and give Kirito an opening he desperately needed.
  • Chick Magnet: Kirito is one. However, he is usually better then most harem protagonists in the sense that girls will usually fall for him after a decent amount of interaction happens. Also unlike other harem protagonists, Kirito is usually seen as The Ace rather then an Ordinary High-School Student or, worse, a loser. Also averts more typical harem tropes in that the Romantic sub plot is finished early on and other girls are not treated as potential rivals thereafter.
  • Cliff Hanger:
    • Episode 9 of season 2 ends on one, with Sinon paralyzed by Death Gun, who also fires a shot at her in order to find out if the Kirito in GGO is the same one as in SAO.
    • Episode 13 of season 2, after Shino is attacked in her apartment, and Kirito storms in to knock the attacker off of her.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: A few examples:
    • Non-romantic example with Yui, who declares that the only ones who can hug Kirito are herself and Asuna.
    • Leafa gets a bit jealous in Episode 20 when Sakuya and Alicia, the leaders of the Sylph and Cait-Sith races, get a bit too friendly with Kirito after he saves them from an ambush.
    • Played straight with Lizbeth in Episode 25 after she spots Kirito and Asuna sitting together on a bench outside. Silica tells her to calm down.
  • Clip Show: The first half of the OVA. Kirito talks to a government agent recalling events in the game world through his perspective. Meanwhile, the girls talk about their various interactions with Kirito, which essentially shows important parts where they interacted with him, in-between teaching Suguha how to swim.
  • Code Name: Almost everyone uses one, which protects their real life identity. Averted by Asuna, who, being an MMORPG noob, used her real name as her screen name.
    • Surviving SAO players tend to refer to each other by their SAO screen names.
  • Coitus Ensues: It is implied Kirito and Asuna cyber it up after a near-death experience in SAO (with some misunderstandings along the way). This is Chapter "16.5", an "extra" story the author wrote on his web site when SAO was still a web novel. It's a lemon, but it's not terrible; you can skip it without missing too much. Funnily enough, when it was originally on the author's site it was confined to a "hidden" part of his site, alongside other erotica based on his series submitted by readers, including various drawings done by Kawahara depicting some of these fan-fics.
    • Amusingly, Kirito only thought they shouldn't be apart in case of another assassination attemptnote , but Asuna thought he meant something else.
      Asuna: We've already come this far, it's stupid to stop now!
    • Even if you discount Chapter "16.5", in the original web novels, from which the officially published novels are based, it's made very clear that they have sex, even without outright saying it. There's even a bit of discussion about how potentially addictive "it" is, since you only get the simulated pleasure with none of the potential drawbacks. These are edited out of the official novels, so YMMV whether it's canon or not.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Inflicted by Kirito to Sugou: he sets the pain absorber to 0, and proceeds to cut his hand, then cut him in half, before finally impaling him in the head.
  • Cold Sniper: Sinon at first.
  • Combat Medic: Asuna's ALO build, playing as an Undine Healer, but also speccing for rapier sword skills, complementing her experience from SAO. There's a reason she's nicknamed "Berserk Healer".
  • Combos: There are Sword Skills that have more than one strike.
    • The Mother's Rosario arc starts with players being drawn to a challenge issued by a player with a heretofore-unseen sword skill that gives an 11-hit combo, who offers to teach the sword skill to anyone who manages to defeat her.
    • A plot point in Alicization arc where Kirito's Aincrad-Style is the only sword skill sect that have multi-hit attacks.
  • Competitive Balance: In one episode Kirito mentions that while SAO is horrible, it is essentially fair to all the players and gives everyone a chance to succeed.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Lizbeth, Yui, and Silica, who all appear in Volume 2 during the 2-year span of the SAO incident, make their comeback in Volume 3 and Volume 4, still retaining their jobs: Silica is still a beast tamer, Lizbeth is still a blacksmith, and Yui is still an AI.
    • Thinker, leader of ALF, who was the Badass in Distress in Volume 2, appears at the end of Volume 4, along with his assistant/wife Yuriel.
  • Continuity Snarl: The video game depicts Gun Gale Online as existing during the Aincrad Arc. Problem is, GGO was developed from the Seed, which didn't exist until after the destruction of SAO.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Out of all the countless people he could have met, Kirito just happens to Crash-Into Hello his sister the very first time he logs into the MMORPG ALfheim Online. Not that either of them know it at the time... which turns out not to be coincidence: the server registered the two different logins from the same location and thought they were the same person, so it moved Kirito to Leafa.
    • Of all the handguns Death Gun could possibly have been wielding, he has the exact same model of gun that traumatized Sinon. As with the above example, this is not a coincidence.
  • Cool Code Of Source/Matrix Raining Code: The anime intro scene to the Aincrad arc starts with something between these two. It's really a pretty cool effect.
  • Corrupted Data: Depending on how you look at it, how Kirito lost nearly all of his Aincrad items or how he kept his stats and one particularly important item when he started ALO. Also, Yui theorizes this might be why he landed where he did when starting ALO instead of in his race's hometown.
  • Cool Helmet: A few GGO players sport these, like Death Gun and Pale Rider.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: When players commit crimes, the markers over their heads go from green to orange. One guild uses members with green markers to lure in victims.
  • Cosmic Deadline: In general for the Aincrad arc, the plot undergoes long time jumps in which many floors at once will be skipped, but the plot abruptly and with little forewarning leaps straight to the conclusion after the defeat of Skull Reaper.
  • Creepy Cool Crosses: Not physically, but Death Gun crosses himself before he shoots his victims with his handgun to kill them in both GGO and the real world. Kirito later theorizes that this gesture masks the fact that Death Gun is actually checking his wristwatch so he can sync up shooting the player's avatar with one of his two real-world cohorts injecting the player with a drug that stops their heart and kills them.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Kirito's group of friends in ALO is nearly completely devoid of magic, outside a few support spells from Asuna, Leafa and Silica. This leads to problems against physical damage-resistant/immune enemies, where they must rely on Sword Skills' elemental effects, all of which have recovery lag times. They're aware of the problem, but after going through SAO, can't conceive of fighting without their weapons.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Happens when a character dies in any of the games.
    • The game itself downplays this — taking too much damage may cause a player to lose a part of their body, but it's just a status effect and it's automatically healed after few minutes.
  • Cross Player: VRMMORPGs using the NerveGear and Amusphere avert this, as the player's body is scanned into the system to form the avatar (degree of customization varies with each game). SAO's pre-alpha testing found that full immersion and genderswapping didn't really mix comfortably, and that after a significant amount of time logged in, male players began to experience anxiety over the lack of... essential equipment.
    • That said, as Episode 1 and a line in the light novel show, it's still possible. It just doesn't have good longterm effects, hence why Kayaba disabled this option when kicking off the death game.
    • Played with in the Gun Gale Online arc: a glitch causes Kirito's avatar to appear as an incredibly rare avatar that is mistaken for female by most players. It's actually a male avatar, but Kirito nonetheless learns to play the confusion over his gender in-game to his advantage.
  • Cross Referenced Titles: The first episode of the Aincrad Arc is titled "The World of Swords." The episode in which Kirito first enters Alfheim Online is titled "The Land of Faeries." The first episode of the Phantom Bullet Arc is titled "The World of Guns."
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • In Volume 2, Kirito vs orange guild Titan's Hand. He doesn't even bother to attack them, because he regenerates health faster than they can harm him.
    • Also in Volume 2, Asuna against a group of thugs from the Army.
    • Kirito versus Sugou after the latter has been stripped of GM powers. Combined with Eye Scream and Tranquil Fury.
    • Kirito easily defeats his first opponent in the Bullet of Bullets tournament qualifier round in Episode 5 of Season 2. Unfortunately this also draws the attention of Death Gun, who then asks him if he's the real deal after witnessing the fight, and seeing a "Kirito" using a sword to win the battle.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory:
    • In his duel with Kayaba in Episode 14, Kirito attempts to fight without Sword Skills, because Kayaba knows all the counters to any Sword Skill he'd try to use. He accidentally triggers a Sword Skill that Kayaba easily blocks and counters.
    • Kirito also gets this in Episode 15 after his sparring match with Suguha, where he tries to return his shinai to a nonexistent back scabbard. He also tried to use a Sword Skill, with obvious results.
    • Continues into season 2. When he first buys his photon sword and tests it out, he practices with his trademark flurry of blows before trying to put it into a nonexistent back scabbard. Later, he does this after winning his first fight in the Bullet of Bullets tournament and notes "I did it again."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Another reason why Kirito avoids guilds and playing with other people is a result of blaming himself for the death of his past guild.
  • Darker and Edgier: How do you make a series which starts being about a Virtual Reality MMORPG that plays Your Mind Makes It Real to its logical conclusion (i.e., The Most Dangerous Video Game) darker after that? How about making the next villain an insane sociopath who intends to rape Asuna, his fiancée, after he's done with her mind, for one, and then right after that having a protagonist who shot a bank robber to death as a child and was ostracized as a result?
  • Dead Man Writing: Sachi recorded a letter via crystal to Kirito to be delivered on Christmas, months after she died. A major Tear Jerker moment, especially when she starts humming a portion of "Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer".
  • Death by Irony: During SAO's first day in the Light Novel, Kirito unexpectedly parties with another Beta Tester named Cooper for a luck-based quest. But once Kirito gets the quest item, Cooper aggro's the monsters (Nepent) then goes into hiding. Kirito silently praises him for the MPK tactic, but finds a flaw in the plan. Some monsters also use senses other than sight, enabling the Nepents to find Cooper's hiding spot, killing him.
  • Death Is Cheap: Played with. Death in-game is death in real life in SAO. In the other SAO-inspired MMOs, though it's not Final Death, it is implied to be Continuing Is Painful.
  • Death Seeker: Kirito goes through a phase of this after his first guild is destroyed.
  • Declaration of Protection:
    • Kirito promises this to the new guild he joins, the Black Cats, and especially to Sachi. Unfortunately when they're ambushed by a very large group of monsters, he's only able to save himself, despite his efforts to protect them.
    • This trope kicks in again in Episode 9 after Asuna does a Leeroy Jenkins to save some players from the level 74 boss. Kirito starts to remember his previous failure, and does everything he can to keep anyone else from dying pointlessly again.
The boss is wiping out members of the Army and he, Asuna, and Klein aren't enough to defeat it. Due to wanting to prevent another Black Cats-like incident from ever happening again, he's forced to utilize his secret skill, dual wielding, and goes toe-to-toe with the boss, just barely defeating it in the process.
  • Descended Creator: In-universe example: Akihiko Kayaba played SAO as Heathcliff.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: The devices used allow this. Unfortunately the immersion is too deep in SAO: You die in real life once your avatar dies.
    • Kirito strongly suspects that various militaries are interested in VRMMO gaming because it provides a substitute to real world training due to the immersion factor.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After Kirito defeats General Eugene in a duel, he wins his respect and Eugene decides to call off the attack on the Sylph/Cait-Sith treaty signing. He leaves saying that he would like to cross blades with Kirito again the future.
  • Demoted to Extra: An inevitability of the light novel series introducing more characters and moving the action to different games. It turned into a Running Gag when Lisbeth and Silica began a protest demanding "More Screentime!" on the back cover of Volume 10. By Volume 15, Leafa and Sinon have been dragged into the club.
  • Designated Love Interest: Arguably applies to the Official Couple. After the Fairy Dance arc most stories are about Kirito or Asuna, not Kirito and Asuna.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The leader of the guild that Kirito joins commits suicide by falling off a balcony over a very high cliff upon hearing that all of his friends were killed in an ambush. Though Kirito doesn't kill himself, the loss of the people he promised to help protect weighs heavily on him.
  • Deus ex Machina: Power of Love and Plot Armor: EVERYWHERE. Several times, Kirito has somehow survived with a sliver of health remaining. In one case he dies, but comes back to life to kill his opponent, then dies again, then meets up with Asuna who died earlier and it turns out neither of them actually died, nor did the guy Kirito killed. No explanation is given for any of this. Asuna manages to overcome paralysis in order to take a fatal blow for Kirito in his duel with Kayaba for everyone's freedom. Kayaba mentions that there's no mechanic for overcoming paralysis and it shouldn't be possible.
    • Although, in the Extra Edition, where Kirito retells what occurred during the first and second arc, the person he is telling the story to suspects that it was the will of Kayaba that had Asuna and Kirito not die. Meaning, he might've interfered with the game's coding so as to not send a signal that they died so the NerveGear wouldn't fry their brains.
    • Plot Armor is somewhat subverted in the second arc, since when Kirito fails to solo the challenge to the top of the World Tree, he says what is basically "Why was I thinking I had Plot Armor?"
  • Difficulty Spike:
    • SAO players note that Aincrad dungeons and monsters are a lot more difficult since being ported to ALO, compared to the original SAO incarnation.
    • In SAO, there is a massive Difficulty Spike for the Floor Bosses from the 74th Floor and onwards. Not only are they a lot stronger than previous Floor Bosses, but their rooms are sealed from the outside and are Crystal Traps. This means that crystals like healing and teleportation are useless, making it impossible to escape and thus obtain intel and making each fight a battle to the death. On the 75th Floor Boss, they lose so many people that Kirito takes a massive risk on testing his suspicions about Heathcliff, because there is a high chance they won't be able to make it to the 100th floor.
    • It's speculated by the characters that every 25 floors (25th,50th,75th) have a specially difficult boss that is far stronger than a "normal" boss should be.
  • Digital Avatar: Nearly everyone who uses the Full Dive technology, especially VRMMO players.
  • Disappears into Light: The death animation in SAO.
    • In ALO, depending on the in-game race, different elemental effects before leaving behind a "Remain Light" which also disappears after a minute.
  • Diving Save:
    • Pina performs one to save Silica, dying in the process. This kickstarts the events of "The Black Swordsman".
    • Kirito does this to save Asuna from Kuradeel, after his faked surrender catches her off-guard.
    • Later, Asuna takes a mortal blow from Kayaba to protect Kirito, which eventually gives him the final push to defeat Kayaba.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Yui is always barefoot, both in human form and pixie form.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens to a few people:
    • The leader of the Black Cats of the Full Moon, after the guild members are annihilated and Kirito reveals he was a beta tester. Kirito, himself, contemplates this for a bit after the guild's destruction.
    • Yuuki's mother nearly falls to this, after she's diagnosed with AIDS from contaminated blood.
  • Dual Wielding: Only Kirito gets this skill in SAO. He later recreates his style from sheer effort and virtual muscle memory in ALO.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Kirito in GGO. He accidentally (at least initially) abuses this to get help from the nearby Sinon, and later starts to use it deliberately to get help from other players.
  • Duel Boss: The Final Boss of SAO, Heathcliff (AKA Akihiko Kayaba), is fought by Kirito and Kirito alone.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Kirito displays some in Episode 3 after he manages to retrieve the rumored revival item. Unfortunately it's of no use to him, and he gives it to Klein. Said item has to be used within 10 seconds of a player's death, and Sachi has been dead for months by this point.
  • Dungeon Bypass: When Kirito and Asuna are looking for a house on Floor 22 to buy, they stumble onto Argo and a Wizard of Oz-inspired Quest. Since their levels are miles above that floor's, the three of them use shortcuts like jumping on balconies that they aren't supposed to be able to reach.
  • Dungeon Crawling: A prerequisite for clearing each level of Aincrad. Each level's stairway-dungeon has 20 floors, and the final floor has the boss that must be defeated to clear the level.
  • Dynamic Entry:
    • Kirito's crash landing when he first meets Leafa, which causes the pursuing Salamanders to halt their attempt to kill Leafa, and re-target to him.
    • Asuna does this in her big damn heroes moment. Kirito describes her arrival as a red and white wind.
    • Kirito does one in the real world in episode 13 of season 2 after a crazed man Kyouji, with a mix of Crazy Jealous Guy and If I Can't Have You attacks her in her apartment.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: From Episode 1 of the anime:
    • Klein is seen from the "MMO Stream" news video covering the SAO release before meeting Kirito for the first time as described in the original novel.
    • Suguha is briefly heard and seen running off to practice before Kirito enters SAO.
    • Asuna, Lizbeth (before dyeing her hair pink), and Silica are seen among the players in the plaza.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes four volumes, but after going through a lot of shit and never giving up, Kirito and Asuna are reunited in the real world. This is also a general theme with the various main story arcs as a whole.
  • Expy: Yui is an expy of .hack's AURA only that her creation was not intentional as she was only composed of data that somehow became sentient. In SAO she has the powers of an Admin.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Aincrad's 75th floor boss, The Skull Reaper. A terrifying skeletal centipede thing that's the size of a building, moves very fast, hits very hard, and has four red eyes.
  • Everyone Can See It: When Klein first meets Asuna, he catches on very quickly that she has feelings for Kirito, and asks Kirito if they're lovers. Kirito's fervent denial is greeted with knowing smiles from all of Furinkazan and Asuna.
  • Evolving Credits: In the opening for the Fairy Dance arc, there is a part where Sugou steps away from a window. After his identity in ALO is revealed you can see Oberon in his reflection at this point.
    • Happens again in the opening credits to season 2. After Death Gun is revealed to have been a former member of Laughing Coffin in SAO the credits change from seeing the gun in his hand dissolving to the just-barely visible Laughing Coffin tattoo hidden under the bandages on his arm. The trend continues when the Caliber arc gives way to the Mother's Rosario (which is noted in the credits), where the second opening slightly changes to include a few shots of Yuuki and the rest of the Sleeping Knights. However, the next episode after that, the credits change again, to feature only Yuuki, Asuna and the rest of the Sleeping Knights in place of Kirito's group during the Excalibur quest, with Yuuki taking Kirito's place in all of the opening scenes that had featured him.
  • Excuse Plot: An in-universe example: according to the author's own live commentary, the backstory for GGO is that humanity settled other planets and eventually descended into an apocalyptic war, resulting in all the ruined cities. The monsters in-game are a product of genetic manipulation.
  • Eyes of Gold: Happens a few times to Kirito in the anime, usually as a means to showcase how absolutely committed he is to a task (coming Back from the Dead to kill Heathcliff, or trying to reach the top of the World Tree amidst the Guardians' attacks).
  • Face-Heel Turn: Kayaba a.k.a. Heathcliff had planned to do this on the 100th floor, but did not get the chance, thanks to Kirito's Sequence Breaking.
  • Facepalm: Implied to be Kirito's reaction to Klein's Honor Before Reason moment.
  • Face Plant: Happens to Kirito to the point of becoming a Running Gag in the early episodes of the ALO arc, including a rather spectacular one where he falls from several hundred feet in the air and impacts the ground so hard that his head is stuck for several moments.
  • Fanservice: We get to see every major female character in their undergarments one way or the other.
    • There's also quite a bit of "look at the detail of that butt" shots in the episode "Crime Within The Walls".
    • Suguha is a favorite target of the camera here. Boob shot while she's sleeping? In the first episode she appears. Panty shot? Check. Shot of her undressing to underwear? Check. Shots of her bathing, with Censor Steam? Check. It's no surprise that her avatar gets the same treatment, either.
    • Sinon is introduced setting up an ambush while sniping from a prone position. The camera gives us a very generous view of her derrière.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: The Sleeping Knights plan on disbanding the guild in March 2026, and want to defeat a floor boss in Aincrad as just a party so that all their names will be inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen as proof of their existence. The real reason is because the members are all terminally ill patients, with two of their members not expected to survive past March. After they successfully defeat a floor boss and Yuuki passes away, the group disbands and its members part ways.
  • Fictional Currency:
    • Col in SAO.
    • Yurudo in ALO.
    • Credits in GGO.note 
  • Final Boss Preview: Technically, Kirito's duel with Heathcliff in the arena is this due to the latter being Akihiko Kayaba himself.
  • First Girl Wins: Asuna is the first girl introduced to readers of the light novels and viewers of the anime (though the situations are slightly different), and the first love interest Kirito meets.
  • Five-Man Band: Later on, in a quest for Excaliber, we get:
  • Five Races/Massive Race Selection: There are nine playable fairy tribes in ALO. Four of them are based on the Alchemic Elementals:
  • Flash Step: Too many times to count, usually by Kirito. Actually, the sword skill Sonic Leap may actually be Invoking this trope. Asuna uses this to travel an impossible distance in five minutes, Kirito leaves behind a sonic boom from his first attack in ALO...
  • Flight: A main feature in ALO. Under the control of RECTO, there is is a limit for flight such as: height limit, cool down time to charge with sun or moonlight, and inability to fly in dungeons with the exception of Imps. The main quest at the time has the races trying to reach the top of the world tree to have an audience with Oberon to be reborn as a higher-order fairy, the Alf. After Recto sells its rights to it, all races have no time limit in flight.
  • Foil:
    • Sinon to Kirito: A fellow PTSD sufferer traumatized by the memory of killing in self-defense.
    • Suguha to Asuna: Gets into VRMMORP Gs out of curiousity and winds up fighting against a major crime with Kirito.
    • Spiegal to Recon: Invites a classmate whom he has a crush on to join him in a VRMMORPG and confesses his love to said classmate after she has a messed-up encounter with Kirito.
    • Spiegal/Kyouji to Sugou after the climax of the Phantom Bullet Arc: Once it becomes clear that he'll never have his crush, he decides to just rape her instead.
    • Kikuoka to Sugou: Both worked on weaponizing Full Dive technology. The difference is that Kikuoka is doing this out of patriotism, whereas Sugou wants to sell it to the highest bidder.
    • Asuna isn't truly a foil to anybody, but she serves as a foil to Sachi and Keita during the climax of the Aincrad Arc, when after they learn that the 75th Floor boss fight will be held inside an anti-crystal zone and tells Kirito that she would kill herself if she stayed out of the fight and Kirito didn't come back from it.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening credits for season two at one point show Kirito trying to reach Death Gun while surrounded by a purple triangular void with three laughing silhouettes growing out of each of the three points which foreshadows that "Death Gun" is actually three people, one whom controls the "Sterben" avatar in GGO itself and sets up the murders by shooting other avatars with a handgun and two others who operate in the real world, using a heart attack-inducing drug to actually kill people.
  • Forced to Watch: During the climax of the Fairy Dance arc, Sugou rips the clothes off Asuna's avatar, pins Kirito down by impaling him with a sword, and forces him to witness poor Asuna being sexually harassed in the Virtual World. He then threatens to repeat the "performance" with her real (comatose) body later and comes very close to successfully raping her in-game before Kirito manages to free himself.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The town bell of the Starting City of the 1st floor rings when the players of SAO are forcibly teleported to its central plaza.
  • For the Evulz: Kayaba entrapped the people playing SAO until they can finish the game by defeating the ultimate boss, but in truth he wants to see a society in a different light and he's the ultimate boss.
  • For Want of a Nail: Caliber Failure Side explores one such outcome to the Caliber sidestory. Kirito convinces the party to abandon Freya (without knowing she's actually a disguised Thor). As a result, they're unable to defeat the Big Bad before time runs out. Not only do they fail the quest, Kirito loses his chance to get Excaliber, and the Big Bad succeeds in deploying an army massive enough to destroy Alfheim and Aincrad.
  • Four Is Death: After a familiar dies, there is a chance it will leave behind an item that will allow the player to resurrect it. However, if the player cannot meet the requirements within four days, the item will change and the pet will be dead for good.
  • Fragile Speedster: Bullet of Bullets entrant (and possible Death Gun suspect) Pale Rider appears to have built his character this way, eschewing as much gear as he can save for a single shotgun so that he can take advantage of his low encumberance to perform all sorts of fancy acrobatics that allow him to win his fight against Dyne. Not so helpful when the real Death Gun hits Pale Rider with a paralyzation dart so Death Gun can get up close to kill him, both in the game and in the real world.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Multiple times in the "Sleeping Knights" arc. Whenever the Monument of Swordsmen is given a close-up view, you can see the names of familiar characters having cleared previous floors. Kirito, Asuna, Leafa, Klein…
  • Freudian Slip: Yuuki does this twice in episode 21 in season 2. She mentions nee-chan, or "sister" in Japanese, when battling the floor 27 boss with Asuna and the Sleeping Knights. Asuna initially thought it was just a term of endearment. Later she mentions it again at the wall of names of players or guilds who first defeated each floor boss. When Asuna mentions it to her, Yuuki suddenly develops an Oh, Crap look in her face, and quickly logs off. Asuna is given no explanation as to why this was from Yuuki or her guildmates. Episode 22 reveals that Yuuki had a twin sister who had succumbed to AIDS. Yuuki herself is also dying of it, and the other members of the Sleeping Knights also have terminal illnesses and didn't want Asuna to get too attached lest she be saddened by them dying.
  • Gainaxing: Though the anime is tame in Fanservice in relation to many others, there's still a bit of artistic mammary license seen on Sakuya and Leefa.
  • Gamer Chicks: Most of the girls Kirito knows. They are trapped in a video game, after all.
    • Notably not Asuna, though, until after they escape SAO. Her brother was supposed to get trapped in SAO instead of her, and SAO is actually the first game she's ever played.
  • Genre Savvy: Kirito tends to be quite genre savvy about common interpersonal anime cliches, such as the Crash-Into Hello.
    • In Volume 8, when meeting trapped female NPC Freya, and noticing she has an HP bar, Kirito is convinced that she'll transform into a powerful Elite Mook once she's released, and that she's designed to appeal to male players; he's seen this before a few times. He's also not surprised at all when Klein falls for it. At the same time though… see Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Gilded Cage: "Titania's" (Asuna's) prison in ALO. Quite literally.
  • G.I.R.L.:
    • With the exception of a one-off gag at the beginning of the anime, this trope is averted due to everyone's SAO avatars reverting to each player's true appearance. In later post-Aincrad volumes of the Light Novel, the author discusses and deconstructs parts of this trope, mentioning that wearing a VRMMO avatar of the opposite gender for extended periods of time could become very uncomfortable and psychologically distressing, as sensory input mappings for the opposite gender would be different. On the other hand, as the AMUsphere and NERVgear read your brainwaves to calibrate for gender, sometimes a person's thought patterns could be "close enough" to the opposite gender, such that they receive a "surprise" when they enter the VRMMO.
    • Kirito's avatar in GGO appears female. Naturally, guys hit on him in the game, and Sinon also assumes he's a girl at first. He plays along with the latter since he is lost at the time and needs directions in the game.
  • Good Guy Bar: In the real world, Dicey Cafe, owned by Agil, which ends up becoming a hangout for the main cast. Agil also runs a cafe and item shop in ALO, which serves the same function.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Despite the grim reality the players face, some of them do go out with a smile.
    • Yuuki logs into ALO as she's dying, giving Asuna her Limit Break and saying one last farewell to her friends. The last image is of her and Asuna standing together, smiling.
    • Sachi does this in Episode 3 as well.
    • A light-hearted version. Sinon suggests to Kirito they end the Bullet of Bullets tournament in a draw. Sinon then takes a grenade, pulls the pin, and tosses it to Kirito before hugging him with a smile as it goes off. Kirito sort of does the same, but he wasn't expecting Sinon to do that.
  • Graceful Loser: Kayaba/Heathcliff. Not only does he honor his word that everyone will be able to log out once the game is cleared, but he even smiles as he watches Kirito overcome his own in-game death to run him through.
    • Also General Eugene, who does not hold a tiniest bit of grudge after Kirito defeats him.
  • Gratuitous English:
    • English seems to be the official language of Sword Art Online, given that all the game messages are in English. Most of them are pretty good, until Episode 14, where one message reads "Chaged into Immortal Object"... when it should have said Mortal Object anyway, given that it was Heathcliff turning off God Mode before his duel with Kirito. Episode 15 also has Kirito receiving an email from Agil written in Japanese, with the subject "Look at this!!" written in English.
    • In spoken dialogue, "Beta tester" and "Sword Art Online" are always said in English; the former seems to be a loanword and the latter is probably because the game's official language is English. For a straighter example, after beating the first floor's boss, Kirito says "Good job" to Asuna and Agil says "Congratulations" to Kirito, both in English.
    • The robotic cowboy in the shooting game Kirito plays in Episode 4 of Season 2 is chock full of these lines, though it does speak Surprisingly Good English with an appropriate accent (it's dressed as a cowboy and talks in a Southern drawl). Justified, since GGO, the VRMMO that Kirito is playing at the time, was made in America.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Fatal Scythe boss is basically this. It lives up to its name, too, until Yui takes it down.
  • Guest Star Party Member/Optional Party Member: In Caliber, Freyja is actually Thor in disguise. What happens when Kirito's party chooses not to free Freyja is covered in Caliber SS.
  • Guide Dang It: Deconstructed and Played for Drama. A large number of the players end up dying, not just from inexperience, but from a lack of information about things that aren't even mentioned in the game and would be known from an outside source (such as other players). For example, The Black Cats of the Full Moon (sans Kirito) get killed because they didn't know side areas in dungeons tend to block off teleportation and make the players suffer waves of monsters that usually surpass their levels.
  • Gun Kata: In the Death Bullet arc, Kirito is shown a gambling game where the player tries to touch an NPC while dodging bullets fired from it. He watches someone play it and the way it's described sounds very similar to this if only for the defensive aspects.
  • Gun Porn: Somebody working on the anime must be doing their research on the loads of guns available in GGO. There are several full screens of many guns and, at one point, an entire selection of at least twenty individual handguns, scrolling across the marketplace all accurately designed and labeled. Even Shinon goes into long bouts of her favorite guns, one of them being the famous FN Five-seveN.
  • Happily Married:
    • Kirito and Asuna in SAO, after their Relationship Upgrade. This is also their real-world goal.
    • Thinker and Yuriel, both in SAO and the real world.
    • Agil and his wife; when he was trapped in SAO, she singlehandedly kept his cafe running and in the black while waiting for him to come back.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Averted. Kirito is able to more or less recreate his Dual Wielding skills through sheer hard work, and he's only able to chain one-handed sword skills after a lot of effort and failures.
    • As a whole, there are no shortcuts in SAO; players who want to level up will need to put in the effort.
    • Played straight during the Fairy Dance arc when Kirito first enters ALO and outside getting used to the controls, he himself knows he is a cheater in this case.
  • Heel Realization: Seems to happen to Grimlock when Asuna tells him that he didn't really love his wife Griselda, and killed her because he wanted to control her rather than let her be a strong, independent woman. As she tells him this, he seems to suffer from both My God, What Have I Done? and a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Hero Academy: Kirito ends up in one along with his partner, Eugeo, during the Alicization arc.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: It's noted that most SAO players who migrated to ALO tend to dump all their points into sword skills and ignore magic, because they believe their weapons are proof of their existence.
    • This actually leads to two different classifications among players in ALO: "Fairies," who use magic, and "Swordsmen," who only use weapons.
  • Heroic BSOD:
    • Kirito suffers one when Asuna performs a Heroic Sacrifice. It debilitates him so badly that he can't bring himself to do more than slowly and feebly swing his swords at Heathcliff for a few seconds.
    • Kirito has another one when he encounters Death Gun and realizes that not only is he a survivor of SAO, but also a member of Laughing Coffin. All of Kirito's repressed memories of the purge against that guild return and leave him in such a wrecked state that Sinon is worried by his nonresponsiveness.
    • Sinon suffers one during the Bo B tournament when she is confronted by Death Gun who tries to kill her using the same model of gun that Sinon used in the real world five years ago to kill the robber, an event which caused her to become severely traumatized. After Kirito rescues her, and they are fleeing Death Gun on a buggy, Sinon suddenly finds she can't bring herself to pull the trigger on her rifle, even though Death Gun is baring down on them on a robot horse. It takes Kirito offering to pull the trigger with her that allows her to fire and escape Death Gun, but even then, Sinon is still extremely shaken up by what she's gone through.
  • Heroic Resolve: Asuna and Kirito both break the ''laws of reality'' at least once, in order to rescue the other. Comes in as a Crowning Moment of Awesome every single time.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Yui invokes her GM powers to save Kirito and Asuna from a high-level boss. Unfortunately, since she disobeyed her programming, this results in her getting flagged for deletion. Thankfully, Kirito manages to preserve her heart before she's fully deleted.
    • In Episode 14, Asuna overcomes complete paralysis with The Power of Love to get up and take a killing blow for Kirito, dropping her own health bar to zero to save him.
    • During Kirito's second run on ALfheim Online's Grand Quest, Recon performs an extremely powerful dark magic spell that instantly kills him while clearing a massive hole in the Guardian swarms. A downplayed case, though, since death in ALO won't kill you in the real world like in SAO. However, Leafa does note that the Death Penalty for Self-Destruct is rather steep.
  • Honor Before Reason: Though the protagonists avoid this for the most part, this pops up from time to time:
    • In Volume 2, Thinker walks into an obvious ambush unarmed, because his treacherous 2nd-in-command said he wanted to talk privately without weapons. Yuriel and Asuna lampshade this.
    • In Volume 8, Klein frees an imprisoned NPC that he and everyone agree is probably a trap and will likely turn on them, because that's his warrior code. The party can't decide if he's being an idiot or being cool. Amusingly, the NPC is a trap... just not the expected kind. See Attractive Bent-Gender above.
    • A unit of players from The Army are met by Kirito, Asuna, and Klein's guild, and their leader asks for the map for the level. Kirito agrees to it, but tells him they should avoid fighting the boss as they don't have enough players, and his troops look rather worn out. He decides to go straight towards the boss, and promptly gets killed for it, forcing Asuna and Kirito to attack the boss in order to save the surviving players.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Liz, after having joined a party with Kirito to find a rare material to forge a sword with, is seemingly ready to declare her love for him since he risked his life to save hers and was a Nice Guy as well. Then Asuna drops by, and Liz begins to read between the lines. You can almost see her heart get torn in two as she realizes this trope is being applied to her. She tries to brush it off with her usual Genki Girl face, but wanders off to secretly cry.
  • Hope Spot: After Sachi dies, Kirito learns of an ultra-rare item that can resurrect a dead player. It doesn't quite work out, since the item has to be used within ten seconds of the player's death, but by the time Kirito gets it Sachi has already been dead for six months. He gives the item to Klein instead, hoping that it'll be of some use to him.
  • Idiot Ball: Suguo, running highly unethical human experiments on a public server — no matter how ostensibly secretive those involved are — which is still debugging from the transition from a previous incarnation, in which several characters get an Old Save Bonus when they transfer, was not your brightest move.
  • Ikea Erotica: The infamous chapter 16.5, available for your perusal in all its glory. (Warning: Supposed to be NSFW, though barely counts as such.)
  • I Know Mortal Kombat:
    • Shino is able to load and fire a Colt M1911 (well, an airsoft copy) thanks to her experience in GGO.
    • Kirito manages to match his sister in a kendo sparring match with his SAO skills (it should be noted that she's a national level competitor), dodging a blow that reportedly had never been successfully blocked by either her coaches or tournament opponents, and later beats a knife-wielding madman barehanded.
      • Another thing about the kendo match: despite it being a month after his escape from SAO, we still need to remember that it's ONLY a month, so his body is still both severely physically weakened from muscle atrophy and from malnutrition. They both pretty much come to the conclusion that had he been healthy at the time he would have won (the only real reason he lost is because his arms had atrophied so much that when he tried to block one of her strikes she just blew straight through and hit him. That, and he tried to use a Sword Skill with predictable results.)
  • Ill Girl/Guy: All the members of the Sleeping Knights. They're hospice care patients hooked up to modified NERVgears in an attempt to give them a better quality of life.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • One of the Salamanders ambushing Kirito and Leafa in the cave gets impaled on monster!Kirito's fingernails and hangs there in the air until he dies.
    • In Episode 22 of Season 1, this happens to Kirito in a scene very, very reminiscent of Asuka's death in The End of Evangelion.note 
    • Two episodes later Kirito kills Sugou's Oberon avatar by tossing him up and letting him fall onto Kirito's sword in a pose strikingly familiar to the iconic Last Shooting scene in Gundam.
    • Moments before that, Sugou impales Kirito with his own sword, just after altering the pain absorber to make the experience even worse for him.
    • Kirito does this to the first opponent he fights in the Bullet of Bullets tournament in Episode 5 of Season 2 once he manages to get close enough to use his energy sword.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: The entire skill system in SAO is based on swordsmanship. Not a single spell to be found. Hand Waved as an attempt to raise immersion.
    • Kirito can cut bullets in midair easily in Gun Gale Online. When he gets back to ALfheim Online, he uses the same skill to cut magical spells. Nobody, not even Asuna, Leafa, or Klein, who're the closest players to his skill level, can do that.
  • Impossible Task: The "Grand Quest" of ALO.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Not an issue in SAO and ALO where swords are commonplace, but come Volume 5 of the light novel Kirito becomes the only character to wield a sword in a gun fight in a game that's all about shooting.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Shino scores a headshot on The Behemoth after jumping from a skyscraper while dodging a minigun in midair.
  • The Informant!: Kirito come Volume 5, and he's now the informant for Public Safety.
  • Inventional Wisdom: Spontaneously activated self-destruct capability for ALO.
  • Inside a Computer System: The "partially attached" variety. VRMMOs use the "Full Dive" system to completely immerse the player in a virtual world, controlling all five senses.
  • Inverted Portrait
    • Asuna in the Closing Credits of the Aincrad arc.
    • Shino in the Closing Credits, and her in-game alter ego Sinon (along with Death Gun) in the Title Sequence, of the Phantom Bullet arc. Twice over in the former, in fact: once as her present self, then again as her 11-year­-old self, when she shot and killed a would-be bank robber.
    • Leafa in the Caliber arc's Closing Credits.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Death Gun uses one. It helps him sneak around on the battlefield and is also used to spy on people when they enter their real-life details, including home addresses, in order to register for tournaments in GGO.
  • Ironic Echo: "Sorry, this area is currently off-limits." Said by Kirito to a Jerkass guild member, echoing another guild member's words to the Sleeping Knights.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Kuradeel tries this when Asuna beats him to within an inch of his life bar. He feigns asking for mercy/forgiveness, but then immediately tries to kill Asuna with a cheap shot before being taken down by a recovered Kirito.
  • Japanese Christians: Yuuki's family, and presumably Yuuki herself.
  • Jerkass: At least one in every volume.
    • Jerkass Façade: Kirito at the start doesn't interact with other players due to past trauma. Agil gives off the impression of being a stingy merchant, but it turns out much of the in-game currency he earns goes to support the lower-leveled players.
  • Joke Weapon: The Lightsaber is considered this in Gun Gale Online, which makes a certain kind of sense as it's an MMOFPS.
    • Lethal Joke Weapon: Said Lightsaber becomes this in Kirito's hands. After he becomes the co-winner of the third GGO in-game tournament, more players begin trying to emulate him.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: A couple of them. For starters, the game would have NEVER made it to mass market if the NERVgear went through a simple independent security test (just like EVERY product EVER does). And even if it somehow did, the police could have caught Kayaba and unplugged all the players safely. But if either of those happened, we wouldn't have any story.
  • Karma Houdini: Although they were all placed in a separate building from other SAO survivors for rehab/observation purposes, none of the players who committed murder in SAO are publicly revealed nor receive justice for their actions, as all blame is placed on Akihiko Kayaba. This leads to repercussions in future arcs.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Kayaba gives Kirito the means to defeat Sugou, a man who's even more despicable than the SAO creator (you know, the one that caused thousands of deaths for a childish dream).
  • Kill 'em All: The Black Cats of the Full Moon guild ends up getting completely annihilated in a trap not a while after Kirito joins.
  • Kissing Cousins: One-sided on Suguha's part. She slowly falls in love with her cousin Kirito (who was raised as her brother); however, since he already has Asuna and Kirito isn't really into that stuff, he doesn't reciprocate.
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: Sometimes when Kirito and Asuna kiss.
  • Lady of War: Sakuya, guild leader of the Sylphs, who wears a katana.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In the Light Novels, at least, Kirito thinks that he looks like a typical manga protagonist. Also, in the Light Novels, when Asuna breaks free from an unbreakable paralysis to save Kirito, Akihiko Kayaba points out that "This is really surprising. Isn't it just like a standalone console RPG scenario? It should have been impossible for her to recover from the paralysis... So things like this really do happen..."
  • Laser Sight: In GGO, the Ballistic Prediction Line (Bullet Line) is an inverse example, as it appears only to opposing players, though sniper rifles don't project a line until they've fired a shot (and in which case the line disappears after a minute). Normally, this gives opposing players a chance to dodge incoming gunfire, but Kirito takes it up a notch by using these lines to deflect gunfire with his light saber.
  • Level Grinding: In SAO, Kirito does a lot of this off-screen. In fact, in SAO it's not considered safe to explore a floor until you are at least 10+ levels higher. Kirito himself does a massive power leveling after Sachi dies, in order to solo an event boss monster to obtain a rumored One-Time Revival item to bring her back to life.
  • Lighthearted Rematch: The SAO survivors who migrated to ALO treat the return of Aincrad as this, intending to clear all hundred levels for fun, instead of a matter of life or death.
  • Light Is Not Good:
    • Kuradeel of the holy-based guild Knights of The Blood Oath turns out to be working for Laughing Coffin.
    • Heathcliff, Leader of the Knights of The Blood Oath, has light-based skills and turns out to be the Big Bad Kayaba.
    • The Guardian Knights that guard Oberon's Fortress are all clad in white and have white wings, but they're preventing Kirito from reaching Asuna.
  • Lightning Bruiser:
    • Kirito is this no matter what game he is in due to having Super Reflexes.
    • Asuna is this in SAO, doing less raw damage but attacking and moving more quickly. More than once she's taken down opponents who've given Kirito trouble.
  • Little Bit Beastly: The Cait-Sith, one of the nine playable races in ALO, are basically an entire nation of cat-people.
  • Lock and Load Montage: There's a short one in Caliber, just before the heroes set out to challenge the quest and grab Excaliber.
  • Locked Room Mystery: The short story "Murder Case in the Area" is about figuring out how someone was killed in town, in which players are normally immune to damage.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Kirito and the few other solo players are seen as unusual for not joining guilds and going out to battle alone, something that is likely to get them killed. On the other hand, it's the reason Kirito is so skilled, and presumably the other solo players as well.
  • Look Behind You: In Intermission: Reason for the Whiskersnote , Kirito says this to Kotarou and Isuke from the Fūmaningun guild who cornered both Argo and himself. They don't believe him at first, thinking it's a trick, but it isn't because a Trembling Ox just spawned behind them.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Towns are safe zones, where players cannot be killed except in a duel. PKers discover that if you challenge someone to a duel while they're asleep, you can manually move their hand to accept, and then kill them without retaliation.
    • Several people are killed in a town, without anyone seeing the duel victory symbol appearing, so everyone is confused as to how it's being done. Some of the victims think it's a ghost of vengeance, but Kirito and Asuna assume it's just a system exploit. It turns out to be neither. The "victims" were faking their deaths to terrorize the man who murdered their guild leader. They took advantage of the fact that players can't be harmed in cities, but items (including armor) can, and a destroyed item Disappears into Light in the same way a dead player does. So they just stabbed themselves, faked being in pain, and when their armor was destroyed, teleported away.
  • Loot Drama: In-Universe example, played seriously. One early episode revolves around a younger character being bullied by a crooked guild trying to rob her of a rare item that could revive her familiar, and in another arc, several Player Killing incidents revolve around a guild that crumbled after a disagreement over how to use a rare ring that dropped from a mob.
  • Lord British Postulate: There are a number of areas in ALO that are locked simply by placing enough powerful enemies that no one should be able to pass. The quest to enter the World Tree is this. The enemies themselves are on the low-end of the power scale, but they spawn infinitely. And if you do manage to get past them, the door will not open for anyone but a GM.
  • Love Confession: Recon gives an awkward one to Leafa in episode 23. She seems to reject it with a Mega Ton Punch, but it also seems to snap her out of her funk.
  • Love Makes You Crazy/Love Makes You Evil: Kyouji. So very much.
  • Magic Skirt: Averted, thanks to the physics engine which simulates gravity. Silica learns this the hard way.
  • Male Gaze: Extremely frequent and made very, very squicky by its application to female characters who do not appear to have started puberty yet (Silica) or are in its beginning stages (Suguha). Not to mention the unnerving focus given to Asuna's molestation and close call with tentacle rape. Small wonder people object to its being classified as a "gateway series".
    • Episode 2 of Season 2 has one of the male players ogling Sinon's avatar, staring at her legs and chest.
  • Manly Tears: Happen from time to time, usually from Klein.
  • Marry Them All: In the Noncanon Gaiden X2, which takes place at the end of the Underworld arc, basically all of Kirito's somewhat Unwanted Harem decide to just marry him in-game, and both Kirito & Asuna agree, making the Battle Harem "official", at least for around 5 years of accelerated time. Non-canonical, especially since the Alicization arc is still being written, and Ronie wasn't part of the harem (though Alice was).
  • Mass Monster Slaughter Sidequest: In ALO Archduke Þjazi gives one to kill beast-type Evil Gods in order for players to receive Excaliber but in actuality the prize is Caliburn and for Jötunheimr to spread to Alfheim.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: During the aftermath of Fairy Dance, it is discovered that even if Sugou had managed to perfect his Mind Control research, it would have only worked with the (now-defunct) first-generation NERVgears.
  • Mechanical Horse: One of the modes of transportation in GGO.
  • Meditation Powerup: In SAO, Meditation is a mental concentration skill that increases the rate of HP recovery and reduces the remaining time of negative statuses. However, due to its low efficiency and lame pose, not many players use it.
  • Metal Slime: The Ragout Rabbit in SAO. They are very hard to find, and though it doesn't offer any extra money or EXP, they make for some of the best meals for anyone with a high enough Cooking skill to prepare it.
  • Million Mook March: When they first reach the inside of the World Tree, it doesn't seem to be very well-guarded. However, once Kirito attempts to break through, they start showing up en masse. After Leafa and Recon try to help, the numbers grow even bigger, to the point that all you can see up there is a wall of guardians.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Kayaba gives every player of SAO an item called "hand mirror", which forces the player avatars into the players' real-world appearance.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Asuna uses one after the Relationship Upgrade.
  • Mood Whiplash:
  • Mook Horror Show: Episode 19 has Kirito transforming into an appearance very similar to The Gleam Eyes and summarily wiping out a group of Salamanders pursuing him and Leafa. One gets impaled on his fingernails, one gets eaten by Kirito, one gets eaten by underwater high-level monsters when attempting to escape...
  • The Most Dangerous Video Game: This is the entire premise of the Aincrad arc and, for 300 people, the Fairy Dance arc.
  • Mundane Utility: Some players use VRMMO's to do homework, not only because they won't get tired, but it can display a lot more screen data than would be possible at home.
  • Mutual Kill: Kayaba deals Kirito a mortal blow, but he lasts long enough to return the favor.
    • How Shino and Kirito end up as co-winners of the BoB tournament.
  • Mythology Gag: In one of the side stories, Kirito is called to test a new 4th Generation Full Dive Unit, and finds himself stuck in another virtual world battling Silver Crow.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Arguably the Player-Killer guild "Laughing Coffin", though they're not that powerfulnote . Any AI opponent whose name starts with "The" is a boss. Not something you want to try fighting alone, or even with your six best friends well, unless you're Kirito. "The Skull Reaper" does double-time for fearsomeness, and more than lives up to that name in combat. "The Fatal Scythe" does triple-time until killed by Yui.
  • Nerves of Steel: Kirito has his moments of angst but usually when it hits the fan, he's the one least visibly freaked out.
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Defied by Kirito. In GGO, a gun-based MMO, Kirito chooses a light saber as his primary weapon despite it being viewed as useless by practically every other player because of its poor range. He makes it work.
    • Although her ALfheim Online character is an Undine Healer, Asuna still carries her rapier, and she's only gotten better since her Sword Art Online days.
  • Never Sleep Again: It turns out some player killers challenge people to duels and attack them while they're asleep.
  • New Game+:
    • What Kirito finds out about his avatar after he logs into ALO for the very first time. Because ALO uses a slightly earlier version of the same system as SAO, all of his skills that are common to both games and his money from SAO transfer over to his freshly-made character, though his HP, Exp, Items, and Equipment do not.
    • When he later transfers from the revived SAO to GGO, he does much the same thing, though he arranges to store his items and equipment with Agil's shop so they won't have to be deleted. Because of the Seed forming the basis of all the new generation games, characters are increasingly capable of transferring from game to game, though incompatible items and such are still deleted.
  • News Travels Fast: News of Kirito's Dual Blades skill which defeated the 74th level boss.
    • Kirito lampshades this when Argo sends him an apologetic congratulatory message, after the 1st level boss is defeated.
  • Nice Hat: Minor Phantom Bullet character Dyne sports a pretty awesome cowboy hat.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Kirito believes he did this when the Black Cats of the Full Moon was mostly wiped out.
  • Noisy Guns: This trope is actually lampshaded by Reki Kawahara in his live commentary of SAO II. The Type 54 pistol Death Gun uses, in reality, is a very tightly-fitted gun that would not be making random clicking noises when he brandishes it. Kawahara himself apologizes on behalf of any irritated viewers, as this is an Omnipresent Trope in visual media.
  • Noodle Incident: Kirito's last black longcoat was custom-made by Ashley, the renowned #1 tailor of SAO and who is very beautiful. Lisbeth suspiciously notes that Ashley will only take requests on custom-made items that interest her. Kirito nervously dodges the question, and we never do find out exactly how Kirito got Ashley to create his longcoat.
    • How Kirito and Argo met and learned that each other was a beta tester.
  • Normally, I Would Be Dead Now/Last Breath Bullet: Kirito's health is reduced to zero during his fight with Kayaba, and the game gives him the "You are dead," message, but he uses the lag between his health hitting zero and him vanishing into light to deliver a blow to wipe out Kayaba's HP.
  • Norse Mythology: What ALfheim Online is mostly based on, with bits of other European fairy tales mixed in as well.
  • Not the Intended Use: Outside System Skills, skills and abilities players use that are not programmed in the game. Notable ones are:
    • Switch: A player switches with their partner after attacking the enemy, offsetting it, and the partner does a follow-up attack so the former can recuperate.
    • Skill Connect: In ALO, Kirito discovers he can chain One-Handed Sword Skills in order to compensate for not having the Dual Blades skill in the game. He uses One-Handed Sword Skills and controls his left and right arms separately. He has to be sure the timing of the next move is precise or it fails.
    • Arms Blast: Kirito attacks the weakpoint of the opponent's weapon to destroy it.
    • Spell Blast: In ALO, where Sword Skills also have magic attributes imbued, Kirito can cut magic spells. His inspiration comes from his slicing bullets in GGO.
  • Oblivious to Love: Sorta Justified for Kirito since he already has a girlfriend so he doesn't really pay attention to other girls.
  • Official Couple: Yuuki Asuna and Kirigaya Kazuto (despite his growing list of fangirls).
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Two are used in Episode 3 of the first season:
    • The first is when Klein and his guildmates hold off some members of the Holy Dragon Alliance to buy Kirito some time so he can find a seasonal event boss. Kirito later returns to find them exhausted but victorious despite having been outnumbered.
    • The second occurs shortly after the first one, when Kirito rushes towards Nicholas the Renegade. He later returns to Klein, and gives him the item he received for defeating the boss monster. What makes it fit the trope is the fact that this boss was supposed to take a group to defeat, and Kirito manages to solo it.
    • A later example occurs during the Phantom Bullet arc's Bullet of Bullets tournament. After agreeing to work together to track down Death Gun, Kirito and Sinon split up to track down one of the two remaining Death Gun suspects, "Gunner X". However, shortly after splitting up, Sinon is paralyzed by the real Death Gun who is about to kill her. Well, fortunately, in the two or three minutes in which all of this occurs, Kirito finds "Gunner X," who is actually a female player named "Musketeer X," duels her and defeats her, and then proceeds to use her gun and smoke grenades to drive Death Gun off, saving Sinon. We're only ever treated to a shot of what Musketeer X looked like, as well as her avatar's corpse, and not the actual fight itself.
  • Oh, Crap: Quite a few happen throughout the series:
    • Kirito in Volume 1, upon realizing that he's in a Crash-Into Hello situation with Asuna, and his hand has been automatically groping her, and he can't remember any of the placating statements he prepared in case he ever got into this situation.
    • Kirito and Lizbeth, upon realizing that the cave they took shelter in is the nest of a high-level dragon boss... and it's coming home for breakfast (i.e., them).
    • A Titan's Head player, upon realizing that the swordsman escorting the low-level Dragon Tamer they're targeting is none other than the Black Swordsman.
      • It's compounded when the guild realizes, to their terror, that not only does Kirito outlevel them by a significant degree, his healing factor counteracts all damage they do to him.
    • Kirito again, when Oberon attempts to knife him in the real world.
    • Level Bosses also tend to cause this reaction — prominent examples are Kirito & Asuna's reaction to seeing the Level 74 boss, and when the Level 75 boss casually oneshots several clearers.
    • In Episode 2 of Season 2, Sinon and her pug crew shit themselves when they realise the unknown target they'd dismissed is packing a minigun.
    • Kirito once again has this look in Episode 5 of Season 2 after he wins his first match, and is approached by Death Gun. The latter, aside from looking very frightening and being way too close for comfort to Kirito, also asks some unusually specific questions to him, such as his name and use of a sword in his match. Kirito surmises that Death Gun is someone he knew in SAO, a fellow survivor, but isn't sure who it is. Death Gun's Laughing Coffin tattoo narrows it down a little for him, but he's still not sure who that guy is.
    • Kirito has another moment of this when he realizes one of the three Death Gun suspects in the Bullet of Bullet tournament, a guy named Pale Rider, isn't Death Gun because he's about to be killed by the real Death Gun instead. He immediately starts yelling at Sinon to shoot before Pale Rider is killed.
  • Ojou: Asuna happens to be the daughter of the CEO of RECTO, which later on becomes the only producer of the improved version of NER Vgear called Amusphere.
  • Old Save Bonus: When he starts playing ALO, Kirito discovers that the game is a slightly earlier version of SAO, so all of his previous skills and stats that are in both games are converted over (his equipment, however, is corrupted and has to be discarded). Since he was one of the highest level players in SAO, and having nearly maxed many of his skills, he's automatically one of the strongest players in ALO and can defeat most players with just starter/NPC equipment.
  • Older Than They Look: Perhaps not the case for Kirito, as he was a beta player for SAO, but Asuna initially assumes this is the case due to Kirito's experience in the game, only to be shocked that she is actually a year older than him.
  • One-Hit Kill: What makes the Skull Reaper truly terrifying is its ability to do this.
  • One-Man Army: All the integrity knights in Aliciazation. 50 of them can basically intimidate the entire dark kingdom, at least before Vector shows up. Especially the higher order knights and their ultimate weapon skills, which can range from a laser in the form of concentrated sunlight to a storm of sword particles.
  • Player Killing: Though very rare, it does happen. There's an entire guild dedicated to it. Some of these incidents are due to the perpetrators not believing that killing another player would also kill them in real life, though it's noted that during the first year, despite there being around 1000 players choosing to become bandits in SAO, there was never a single incident of player killing. In later games, when players are no longer Killed Off for Real, PK becomes a core mechanic.
  • Plot Hole: Minor one. Shino strikes Kyouji with a portable stereo. Not ten seconds later, it's back on the table where she grabbed it from. Considering a minor focus was made on the stereo when she went for it, you'd think they'd have paid a little more attention to its magical return to the table.
  • Plucky Girl: Silica.
  • Pocket Protector: In season 2, episode 14, Kirito narrowly avoids being poisoned by Kyouji because he hastily disconnected himself from the monitors at his Dive station and neglected to disconnect one of the electrode pads. Kyouji proceeds to inject him right on top of the pad, and although the needle has enough force to go through two layers of clothing it doesn't have enough force to go through two layers of clothing plus an electrode pad.
  • Power of Love:
    • Asuna's explanation for how she was able to pull her Big Damn Heroes moment, covering in five minutes a distance that took a full hour for Kirito's party. Granted, they weren't exactly sprinting, but still.
    • Can also be considered during Kirito's final fight with Heathcliff; his HP had already been reduced to zero, his body was disintegrating, and he still pulled out Asuna's sword and stabbed Heathcliff in the chest. Similarly during Kirito's fight against Oberon, where he recovered from feeling the pain of swords rammed through his body without the usual pain-reducing technology and got up, gained GM privileges, proceeding to kick the ever-living daylight out of Oberon.
  • Preexisting Encounters: In all VRMMOs, although some enemies have some ways to conceal their presence in order to ambush players.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: In his final conversation with Kirito and Asuna, Kayaba reveals that his main motivation for everything he did was to make the play world that he had always imagined as real as possible. He seems for the most part to be largely blind to the moral or ethical implications of what he has done.
  • Rain of Arrows: Sinon does this in ALO, in addition to acting like a Cat Girl Legolas.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The characters who attempt it are murderers at the best.
  • Real After All: Episodes 5 and 6 deal with an apparently impossible murder, and players are led to believe that it was done by Griselda's ghost. Kirito and Asuna discover how it was really done, but afterwards they catch a glimpse of Griselda at her grave.
  • Real Is Brown: The trope is played in a subtle way: the environments of the battlefields in GGO are all a drab brownish color. Contrast with the much more vibrant and bright colors of SAO and ALO. It's certainly an accurate reflection of the usual color schemes FPS games use in Real Life vs. RP Gs.
  • Reality Ensues: It's a key theme in the Fairy Dance arc (Vol. 3 & 4) that the strength that Kirito gained in SAO doesn't really translate to the real world, because it's just a game.
    • The other main theme is that virtual reality is just as real as 'real' reality. The relevant corollary is that you can't use game logic or meta-logic to get by in a VRMMO. Problems are solved by negotiation, planning, foresight, and flexibility, not hitting things until they submit.
  • Recap Episode: The OVA, Sword Art Online EXTRA EDITION is a 1h 40 min. feature film. Roughly 75% of it is the characters remembering the events from the first season.
    • In the second season, the fifteenth episode (though it's officially called episode 14.5), "Debriefing," is a more traditional recap episode where a voice-over from Sinon summarizes the Phantom Bullet arc over clips of recycled footage. However, it has a different opening and closing from the rest of the arc.
  • Recycled In Space: It's like .hack in its initial premise. Interestingly, both were written more or less around the same time, though it's only in recent years that Sword Art Online has been published.
    • The Aincrad arc is basically a Sci-Fi Western in virtual reality instead of space. 10,000 people find themselves in a frontier with no means of communication to the outside world, and they must struggle to survive amid a world full of hostile beasts and outlaws. The hero is the sheriff who brings order to this frontier, relying on his strength and a small posse.
  • Red Baron:
    • Kirito gets titled as "The Black Swordsman," and is pretty well-known in SAO.
    • Asuna is known as "The Flash", due to being one of the fastest players. In one case, she covers a distance in five minutes that took Kirito's party one hour to travel. She's less keen on her ALO nickname, which is "Berserk Healer".
    • Shino is also known as "Hecate" in GGO, both after her anti-material rifle and for the Greek goddess associated with the underworld.
  • Red Herring: The series leads you to believe that "Phantom Bullet" refers to Death Gun's bullet, but it actually refers to Sinon's sniping ability.
  • Redshirt Army: The (Liberation) Army. A massive guild comprised of mostly low- to mid-level players with the intent of assisting the thousands of SAO players not on the front lines. They were influential to the game until they lost a staggering amount of their best players in the 25th floor boss battle. By the end of SAO the Army is 1/6th of the remaining players but is regarded as mostly ineffectual and often corrupt.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • How does Kirito prevent the leader of the Salamander army from assassinating the leaders of the Cait-Sith and Sylph factions? He shows up, declares himself ambassador of the Spriggan-Undine Alliance, and warns the Salamander general that if he attacks, he'll be at war with four races, not just two.
    • It's also hilarious in hindsight when the reader recalls that Asuna's ALO race is Undine (although at the time he said it, she wasn't). From a Certain Point of View, Kirito is representing a Spriggan-Undine Alliance... all two members of it.
    • From the Material Editions, in SAO, while trying to defend Argo from two "ninja players" from the Fūmaningun gulid, Kirito claims that he is a secret agent of the government. Another hilarious in hindsight due to him working with the government to investigate the "Death Gun" rumors in GGO years later.
    • The entire concept of Death Gun.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted in Episode 14. After Asuna's Heroic Sacrifice to save Kirito from a killing blow, she falls in Kirito's arms as her health bar hits zero and she disappears. After some despair, he slowly picks up Asuna's sword to use as his new off-hand sword, and stands up to renew his fight with Heathcliff as if he's going to get his revenge, but instead he's fallen into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death. His swing falls weakly, slowly, and with no technique. Kirito has no fight left in him. He is completely broken.
    • Played mostly straight in the second arc. Although not exactly roaring, Kirito has no qualms about savagely killing Sugou's avatar Oberon when he sexually molests Asuna and gloats about his intent to rape her, both in-game and in the real world. Kirito cuts off one of his arms, then slashes him in half, and then has his upper half get impaled through the eye as it falls from above onto his sword—all of this with the pain absorber set to 0, which means that not only can Sugou feel all of this, but also his real body is affected.
  • RPG Mechanics Verse: Plenty of MMORPG terms are used, which makes sense since the cast are MMORPG gamers, after all. For instance, whenever characters fail at a strong effort of will, Kirito describes it as failing a saving throw.
  • The Rule of First Adopters: It appears the SAO developers expected this, given that avatars are anatomically correct, and VR sex is actually possible, and practiced in-game. Note Coitus Ensues in the YMMV tab.
  • Running Gag: Kirito's general approach towards awkward male-female interpersonal relationships is to run away. This includes to making his escape when Asuna invites him to stay overnight at her house... and meet her parents.
  • Saintly Church: Which takes care of the younger players in SAO.
  • Scenery Porn: OH YES! Several places of the game are deemed as such.
  • Schmuck Bait: A hidden door in a dungeon leading to an empty room with a single treasure chest at the end. Sweet, free loot! Lets just ahead and open it because nothing bad could possibly happen, right?
  • Scope Snipe: The result of a sniper duel between Death Gun and Sinon. Luckily, Sinon moved her head to check the result of her shot, and narrowly missed Death Gun's bullet destroying her scope and where her head would have been.]]
  • Secret Test of Character:
    • In ALO, while exploring the most dangerous region in the game where flying is impossible and raid-boss-level monsters abound, it's possible to encounter two raid-bosses fighting one another, with one boss clearly winning. Normal player behavior would be to watch and then either flee or attack and kill the bosses while they're preoccupied for their drops. However, should the player(s) choose to help the losing monster, it is revealed that it's actually a secret event and will carry the player(s) to another location, where it will drop them off and stop moving. Should the player(s) actually choose to defend it against other players hunting it, it will carry them and start flying above a tower, revealing the location of legendary sword Excaliber, the most powerful sword in the game.
    • The second part of the quest line also has several events that tests the party's character:
      • They discover a beautiful NPC woman locked in a cage begging for help. Savvy players will note that the NPC has an HP bar, and thus there is a high chance that the NPC will turn hostile and betray the party. The NPC really is an ally and is necessary to successfully complete said quest.
      • Even after securing Excaliber, it isn't added to the player's inventory, and is incredibly heavy. When the dungeon starts collapsing, the player finds that they cannot make the final jump to safety because Excaliber is too heavy, and is testing the player's greed and obsession about whether or not they're on this quest for the legendary sword or to save Alfheim.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Recon does one in Episode 23. He casts a self-destruct spell which opens up a considerable gap between the guardians in an attempt to allow Kirito to break through. Unfortunately, the gap closes itself within moments, although to be fair they had no way of knowing that.
  • Sequel Hook: The anime ends with Aincrad being restored in ALO and everyone from both SAO and ALO that appeared in the series flying towards it in order to try and conquer it. This scene seems all but designed to have even those who have not read the Light Novels begging for a second season.
  • Sequence Breaking: After the battle to defeat the 75th level boss, Kirito confirms his suspicion that Heathcliff, leader of the Knights of Blood, is really Akihiko Kayaba. Kayaba notes that he eventually intended to reveal himself as the level 100 boss and decides that since the secret is out, he'll just head to the top now, but oh hey, he'll give Kirito the chance to fight him now, for all the marbles. Kirito wins, breaking the sequence, and the remaining 25 floors are never explored... until ALO!
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Kirito and Asuna are about to have sex in chapter 16 and at the end of Episode 10. The scene is cut off by a Fade to Black in both the officially publised novels and the anime. However, there is an infamous chapter detailing the scene in graphic detail... and with questionable quality.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: After Sachi dies, Kirito learns of a resurrection item and goes through a lot of trouble to get it, with Furinkazan's help... and finds that the item has to be used within ten seconds of death. Sachi died six months ago. He ends up giving it to Klein, and resolving to never join a guild again.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Kirito, despite being good at hiding it. Not only does he still blame himself for the deaths of the Black Cats of the Full Moon, but he also harbors quite a bit of guilt over killing three Laughing Coffin members in self-defense.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Kikuoka apparently watched an anime where everyone in real life suffered epilepsy around the country. This is, of course, referring to the now-banned Porygon episode.
    • Towards the end of the Anime, Kirito kills Oberon by stabbing into the sky at him in a scene very reminiscent of Gundam'sLast Shooting.
    • While going through a tunnel under a mountain, Kirito mentions to Leafa a book that he read in which the party also went under a mountain, only to be ambushed by Orcs and then meet an ancient demon. Moments later, they are ambushed by a bunch of Salamanders. Just when they're about to lose, Kirito transforms into a large demon engulfed in flame and tears apart the Salamanders, including some wizards.
    • The lightsaber in the Phantom Bullet arc is clearly intended as a Star Wars Shout Out, and Kirito is inspired to cut bullets thanks to seeing Jedi deflecting blaster bolts, though if he had read the expanded universe content he probably wouldn't have tried.note  The small droid that brings the item to him could also be a shout out to R2-D2 from the same series.
      • The beam saber is also purple, which could be a reference to Mace Windu. This would make sense given that, just like Kirito, Mace Windu is known in his own universe for being an absolutely impossible badass at sword combat — even by the standards of his peers.
    • Mention is made of an American GGO player who won the first BoB tournament with only a pistol and a combat knife, alternating shooting with knifing — a common build in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (the leader Sinon is with in the beginning of the anime goes "Go! Go! Go!"). The same player, in a later tournament, uses CQC to disarm his opponents and grab their weapons, strongly invoking the first Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots trailer, where Old Snake does precisely that.
    • One random quest in SAO involves players hunting monsters wearing leather masks and carrying chainsaws.
    • In Episode 1 of the anime, when Klein attempts to log out, he performs Rider-1's henshin pose.
    • An extra character in episode 1 is a G.I.R.L. resembling Haruka Amami.
    • One gameplay element in GGO is a bullet path indication, where the HUD displays a green line (red in the anime) leading back to whoever is shooting at you. This was a Nanosuit option in Crysis 2. In addition to this, the anime shows that the game accounts for wind speed, gravity, and humidity, and when a player gets a shot the camera follows the bullet, all of these similar to Sniper Elite.
    • The wire-frame & vector shaded lead-in to each episode (or at least Episode 2) has some pretty clear allusions to TRON.
    • Kikuoka mentions a certain movie while explaining Project Alicization.
    • In the anime, the entrance of the 74th floor dungeon is the same as the entrance to the place where the Holy Grail was kept; alternately, it's where the Primes were buried — the ancient city of Petra.
      • What game/show/whatever is this a shout-out to? Do you mean the actual Holy Grail?
      • It's a reference to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
    • One underground dungeon in ALO strongly evokes Skyrim's Blackreach in its environment and design.
    • The green water bottles that show up occasionally in the anime (first at the table Asuna and Kirito eat at during the murder investigation in Episode 5, and again when Kuradeel poisons Kirito and Godfree in episode 10) are dead ringers for Skyrim's Alto Wine bottles.
    • The Light Novel illustrations of Yuki's battledress show it's essentially a recolor of Saber Lily's dress.
    • A chat between GGO players in the anime takes place on a live Nico Nico Douga-esque stream. Among one of them is an avatar that suspiciously looks and poses like a Cactaur.
    • In Episode 7 of Phantom Bullet, we see a truncated list of the players in the BoB tournament. One of them is named Jack Reacher.
    • There are a lot of elements comparing this to Final Fantasy VII:
      • Kirito is like Cloud as both are the main protagonists that have a Sugar and Ice Personality and are skilled swordsmen.
      • Asuna has comparisons with Aerith. Both are the love interests of the main character, have hints of red clothing, skilled with a blunt weapon and magic. Unlike Aerith who dies by Sephiroth's hands, Asuna survives her encounter with Oberon.
      • Suguha can be compared to Tifa as both are the deuteragonists (although the former is only this in the Fairy Dance Arc), have black hair, are busty (at least, Suguha's avatar is), skilled martial artists, and being related to the main character.
    • Neon Genesis Evangelion shout outs:
  • Show, Don't Tell:
    • The treasure room that the Black Cats guild finds themselves in during Episode 3 of Season 1. They all find out that their teleportation crystals don't work in the room. This has implications later for when Kirito, Asuna, and Klein's guild find the Army trying to fight the level 74 boss in a room that they also can't escape from. Asuna then rushes into the room in a vain effort to try and save the surviving members, which draws Kirito and Klein into the room as well.
    • The cowboy game played in Episode 4 of Season 2. Though Sinon explains the basics to Kirito, another player happens to try it out at the time, so he's able to watch said game in action. With Sinon's explanation and watching the game, Kirito is able to win it.
    • In episode 9 of season 2, Pale Rider, one of the contestants in the BoB tournament, is seen getting hit with paralyzer dart by Death Gun, then suffering a hit from the latter's signature gun. The shot takes about a quarter of his health off, then he gets back up and points his shotgun at Death Gun. However, he then drops the gun and grasps his chest as if suffering a heart attack, then is disconnected from the game. Sinon then also suffers from this same attack at the end of the episode, and a gunshot is heard as the episode ends with Death Gun using her as a sacrificial lamb to find out if the Kirito in this game is the same as the Kirito from SAO by seeing if her death will launch him into an Unstoppable Rage.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Kirito does this to Asuna after his near-death experience with Kuradeel. She was in the middle of explaining why she needed to stay away from him for his sake, and this proves to be an effective counterargument.
  • Signature Move: In ALO, sometime after Sword Skills are implemented, Original Sword Skills are introduced where a player makes their own Sword Skill. The most notable OSSs are Salamander General Eugene's 8-hit "Volcanic Blazer," Asuna's 5-hit "Starry Tear," and Yuuki's 11-hit "Mother's Rosario."
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Kirito does this to a wolf at the end of the first episode when he rushes off to the next village shortly after Kayaba tells the players they're stuck in the game. He also does this consecutively to two Salamanders right after he first arrives in ALfheim Online.
  • Slasher Smile: Kuradeel has one in Episode 10 as he hacks away at Godfrey and then slowly stabs Kirito in his arms and legs to prolong the suffering.
  • Sleep Cute: Volume 7 opens with Yui sleeping on top of Pina, who is curled up and sleeping on top of Kirito's chest, while he's sleeping in his rocking chair. The scene is so d'aww, Asuna and every other girl in the room feels sleepy and thinks of joining them.
    • Also, Asuna sleeping next to Kirito in "A Murder Case in the Area".
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Shinon is described as having a doll-like avatar. She wields a Hecate II.
  • Snow Means Love: It's snowing during Kirito and Asuna's first meeting in the real world.
  • Solid Gold Poop: A particular in-game dragon dropping is a rare ore used to make very good weapons.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Leafa/Suguha figures out Kirito is Kazuto when he finally mentions the person he's trying to save is Asuna.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": In SAO, Boss monsters have "The" in their name.
  • Spider-Sense: In SAO, there is a hypothetical Outside System Skill called Hypersense, or feeling the presence of an enemy before you can actually see or hear them. It's hypothetical because since the skill is not listed in the database, no one can prove that it even exists. However, numerous characters have been shown to possess it, including Kirito, Klein, and XaXa.
  • Spoiler Opening: Lots and lots of info is revealed in the anime's opening, like Kirito's Elucidator and his eventual relationship with Asuna.
    • The opening for II reveals Kirito's GGO avatar and his use of a beam saber and foreshadows Death Gun's true identity (one of them at least).
  • Squee: Kirito's reaction to getting Excaliber, first when Shino manages to trickshot it into her hands, and then when he officially gets it as a quest reward.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Asuna attracts a lot of these, all of whom are very dangerous. Shino has Kyouji.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Asuna is unfortunately subjected to this by the hands of Kuradeel. She is tougher than him, and likely could have broken free without help; Kirito simply intervened before this happened.
  • Star Scraper: Castle Aincrad is so big, it's essentially a world within a world (though it's actually the entire playable world of the in-universe SAO game). The largest floor is 10 kilometers in diameter, and each one is 100 meters high. Given that there are 100 floors, that makes it 10 kilometers high. But then, that's not counting the fact that it all floats in the sky. The anime also depicts a massive structure extending almost as far down, below the first floor.
  • The Stinger:
    • After the credits roll in the first episode, a list of names is shown. Some are them are gradually crossed out, while a text reads that two thousand players died in the first month alone, and floor 1 had yet to be cleared. The name under Kirito's is then crossed out.
    • At the very end of Extra Edition, Kazuto's phone gets a call from Kikuoka, most likely concerning the Phantom Bullet case.
  • Super Prototype: Nerve Gear is noted by former SAO players to be able to create a much more realistic virtual world than AmuSphere. This is due to the numerous safety precautions that were added to AmuSphere's design.
  • Super Reflexes: Kirito has the best reflexes in SAO, which Kayaba explains is why he received the Dual Blades skill. This carries on into other games using The Seed (SAO's engine): in GGO, for example, he can dodge bullets.
    • Zekken Yuuki has even faster reflexes than Kirito; he suspects that if she'd been in SAO, she would have gotten the Dual Blades skill instead of him.
  • Super Speed: Kirito can move very fast, as his enemies find out.
  • Supreme Chef: Asuna in SAO. She tries to replicate real world tastes in-game, since the in-game food is mostly horrible. And succeeds in taking weird ingredients and putting them together to create delicious food. In Episode 9, she mentions combining abilba seed, sagleaves, and oola fishbone to create something that tastes exactly like soy sauce. Ratsel Feinschmeker would approve.
  • Supporting Harem: For some odd reason the number of female characters that get closer to Kirito keeps on rising volume after volume. Lampshaded by the author. Also, thanks to Kirito and Asuna being the Official Couple, their feelings for him remain unrequited.
  • Survival Mantra: The page quote, said by Kirito in the first episode of the anime, followed by a Skyward Scream.
  • Survivor Guilt:
    • Kirito, the only survivor of the Black Cats of the Full Moon guild. Made worse because as a Clearer, he knew the area well enough that he could have prevented it just by warning them. The only thing that held him back was the fear of being hated for being a Beater.
    • This becomes a critical plot point when Asuna asks Kirito why he was always a solo player up until this point. He talks about the deaths he could have prevented of his previous guild, and how after that incident he felt that it was easier on his own. He does admit that he is reaching the limits of what a solo player can accomplish, so joining her guild isn't all bad for him.
    • Shiune of the Sleeping Knights ends up making a miraculous recovery and laments on being unable to keep her promise with Yuuki, Yuuki's sister, and her friends, that they will always be together.
  • Taking You with Me: How Shino ends the BoB tournament in episode 13 of season 2. She hands Kirito a live grenade, then hugs him so it will blow them both up. They die simultaneously and so both end up being the winners of said tournament.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Crystals in SAO, which allow you to instantly return to the level's town area. Unfortunately, certain dungeons have anti-crystal fields.
  • Tempting Fate: Episode 3 is filled to the brim with this. When talking to Sachi, Kirito keeps saying, "you'll survive," "you won't die," "you'll get out," and even when they're in the dungeon, one party member mentions how this will be a piece of cake. What happened next shocked everyone, as it was totally unexpected.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Kayaba expected everything in the game and also that he would be defeated by the player Dual Sword Skill user, but never imagined that Kirito would catch up to his Heathcliff disguise quite so early on.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Well, The Admin Is A Cheating Bastard. Heathcliff, a.k.a. Akihiko Kayaba abuses his admin powers in order to progress through the game disguised as a regular player.
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Supposedly, in ALfheim Online, the first player to reach the city on top of The World Tree will unlock unlimited flight for their entire race. The city does not exist, and the entrance gate to the top of the tree requires admin rights to open. See Unwinnable by Design below.
  • The Most Dangerous Video Game: The basic premise of the Aincrad arc is that the players are trapped in a virtual world where if they die in the game, they die in real life, and they have to Win to Exit.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: Invoked any time "Swordland" or any of its remixes play.
    • Asuna has her own theme in the form of "Luminous Sword", which noticeably returns (albeit remixed) in her battle against Yuuki.
    • Sword Art Online: Extra Edition uses Season 2's opening theme, "INNOCENCE", as this for the Big Damn Heroes moment during Kirito's second attack on the World Tree.
  • There Are No Therapists: Subverted. The AI that controls Aincrad created a program to monitor and repair the players' psychological states. However, said program was then forbidden from interacting with the players in any way. On launch day, when the creator announced that they were all trapped, and anyone who died died for real, the conflict between the program's core programming to help the players and the orders to not interfere created errors. She eventually appeared in the game as a little girl named Yui, in order to become the daughter of two of the only happy players in the entire game: Asuna and Kirito.
  • There Is Only One Bed: So Kirito has to sleep on the floor while Silica gets the bed.
    • Strangely played straight AND subverted in Episode 3 with Sachi. Both of them get in the same bed, but absolutely nothing happens.
      • Kirito actually didn't know anything could happen. This was over a year before he even found out about the option to turn the Ethics Code off.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Kirito shrugs off his wounds during his first assault on the World Tree until he gets a greatsword thrown through his chest. And then four more.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Kirito says this when he discovers that the quest in ALO for granting unlimited flight is a lie and Leafa-Suguha's dream would not come true.
  • Three-Point Landing: Kirito as a Spriggan fairy in ALO, complete with Badass Longcoat, pulls one off as he assaults the World Tree for the first time as shown in the anime adaptation.
  • Three Strike Combo: The One-Handed Sword Skill "Savage Fulcrum", whose strikes resemble tracing the number "4"note .
  • Time Skip: Between different arcs.
  • Too Awesome to Use: In the manga and light novel, everyone is shocked when Heathcliff casually uses a Corridor Crystal to open a portal to the 75th floor boss. A Corridor Crystal is an incredibly rare item that can only be found in dungeon chests or a monster drop; it's not something to be wasted. This is one of the clues that Heathcliff is actually Kayaba, since as the GMPC, he can call forth any item and thus cannot understand the true value of the item he just wasted.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Corbatz. He decides to take on a boss with his exhausted army, despite being warned against it. Even while being beaten by it, he refuses to retreat. He predictably dies from his stubbornness.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Well, it is an RPG, and everyone's basically fighting for their lives.
    • Asuna goes from being a scared girl who hides in an inn to the second-in-command of the strongest guild in Aincrad.
    • Klein starts the game as a helpless noob who can't kill the weakest in-game enemy, but over time turns into the leader of a Badass Crew.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: A variant. The opening shows Kirito and Asuna beating the monster they're shown fleeing in terror from in Episode 9.
  • Tranquil Fury: Kirito, once he gains administrator privileges in ALfheim Online, proceeds to off on Sugou with application, remaining perfectly calm, until the very last blow.
  • Truce Zone: You can’t hurt anyone fatally in towns in SAO. This generally serves to prevent player kills, though it's still possible to knock people out if specific circumstances are met. The only exception is if both players agree to a Duel to the Death.
    • Asuna's wooden house on level 22 of the revived Aincrad is unofficially this for ALO players. Which causes some awkwardness when the leaders of opposing factions drop in for dinner...
  • True Companions: Kirito and his friends became this after the SAO arc.
    • The Sleeping Knights all met in the Serene Garden, which is a VR hospice for terminally ill patients, and partied together from VR game to game afterwards.
  • Two Girls and a Guy: Kirito, Asuna, and Suguha.
  • Ultimate Gamer 386: Common for each of the story arcs, as they all take place in a virtual world. Most notable in SOA, where both Heathcliff and Kirito become this.
  • Underestimating Badassery: This happens to Kirito a lot in Volumes 2-7, though it's justified as Volume 2 involves interactions with people who haven't heard of him, and in ALO and GGO, he doesn't have the same rep he had in SAO and is an unknown quantity. Ironically, the top-level players in ALO know who he is, but the middle to lower players who have never heard of him.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal:
    • "Freya", to Klein. Unsettles everyone else present as well.
    • Kirito to Sinon in episode 5 of season 2. The latter assumed he was a girl due to his very feminine appearance, until he shows her his stat info. She doesn't take it too well, as she's stripped down to underwear at the time.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Silica enters this momentarily after Pina's Heroic Sacrifice, in the light novels. Subverted in that it turns out to be quite stoppable.
  • Useless Useful Non-Combat Abilities: Many of the skills in SAO are utterly unrelated to dungeon crawling. Some of them are indirectly useful (such as creating/maintaining equipment), and others aren't. When they first meet, Kirito wonders why Asuna would waste the time needed to grind the Cooking skill to the maximum level, although he changes his tune pretty quickly after tasting her food. After they marry, he gives up the two-handed sword skill (which he probably didn't use much anyway after picking up dual-wielding) to learn the Fishing skill.
  • Unwinnable by Design: In ALO (while it was still under control of RECTO), the lore says that the first race to reach the top of the World Tree and go to the city in the sky will become Alfs (Alves?). The boss monsters that the players would have to pass/defeat have a ridiculous spawn rate and the door won't open for anyone without Admin privileges. This is because Nobuyuki Sugou and his team are using the tree to hold and experiment on the 300 minds they captured from SAO.
  • Video Game Caring Potential/Video Game Cruelty Potential: Kirito, especially after his first year or so in Aincrad, deliberately invokes the former and avoids the latter. Before they become friends, he even fights a duel with Asuna to protect NPCs from being used as distractions to the Boss in the upcoming Boss Fight. He discusses the latter trope with Silica in Episode 4 and with Leafa in Episode 19.
  • Villain Ball: The villain of the second arc, from his first appearance. You just looked straight at a guy who spent two years saving six thousand people and outright told him that you convinced his girlfriend's parents to exploit a legal loophole and force her to marry you while she's helpless and comatose. And you don't think this is going to blow up in your face?
  • Villain Respect: Akihiko Kayaba is genuinely impressed that Kirito and Asuna were able to actually defy the physics of his game through sheer force of will. In his mind, this essentially proves the tenacity of humans — which was what he was trying to study all along.
    • Comes up in ALO where Kirito, defeated by Sugou's GM powers, is visited by Kayaba's ghost, who is confused by how Kirito has seemingly given in to Sugou's power. He then gives Kirito his admin access to level the playing field.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: When Shino pukes during her panic attack during Season 2 Episode 3, the camera helpfully gives a view of the floor of the room she just vacated.
  • The War Sequence: The Grand Quest in ALfheim Online can be considered this; a motley crew of players (or maybe even a solo player) fighting their way through hoards of Guardian enemies. Kirito fails the quest on his first attempt, but succeeds later with help from Leafa, Recon, and the Sylph/Cait-Sith alliance as backup.
  • Wham Episode: Sigh... Even an MMORPG anime can have it!
    • Episode 1: At first this was like your typical MMORPG until the rules unexpectedly changed. No logging out until you clear the entire game, which will take ''years'' even for the best player. Also, if you die in the game, you die in real life.
    • Episode 14: Heathcliff is Kayaba.
    • Episode 17: Sugou is playing ALO as Oberon the Fairy King. Sugou is the one keeping Asuna and the other 299 players prisoner. ALO is nothing more than a front for Sugou's experiment in using the Full Dive technology for mind control.
    • Season 2, Episode 5: Kirito comes face-to-face with Death Gun, and not only is he another SAO survivor, he was part of Laughing Coffin, and he has a grudge against Kirito.
    • Season 2, Episode 11: The reason Death Gun can kill is because he has an accomplice in the real world, and said accomplice has broken into Shino's apartment, ready to kill her.
    • Season 2, Episode 13: Kyouji is Death Gun's "other hand", and he's completely snapped and wants to go ahead with killing Shino anyways.
    • Season 2, Episode 22: Asuna learns more about why Yuuki and the other Sleeping Knights suddenly tried distancing themselves from her when she attempted to join their guild. The guild is made up of terminally ill people, and the reason it's disbanding is because Yuuki is dying of her terminal illness. Which is AIDS. Despite finding out the truth, Asuna still wants to spend what little time Yuuki has left to help her Go Out with a Smile.
  • Wham Line: From Episode 23:
    Yui:Players were never meant to open this door.
    • From Season 2, Episode 18:
      Lizbeth: [quoting Kirito] "If Zekken had been in that world, then rather than me, the Dual-wielding skill would have been awarded to them."
  • What Could Have Been: Invoked by Akihiko Kayaba aka Heathcliff when Kirito exposes his identity. Apparently the plan was to continue leading the players until about 10 floors before the final floor and betray them rather publicly, revealing himself to be the final boss to await the rest of the players at the final floor. Needless to say, this doesn't happen.
    • Supplemental material shows that Silica's dragon Pina would have become his mount and a sub-boss.
  • What If?: The side story Caliber SSnote  retells the events of Caliber but with the twist of Klein not freeing Freya. It shows how different the events unfold from their slight slip-up. The Big Bad wins, but there's a bit of hope: the system generates a Defense of the Realm event, calling all players to defend ALO from the Frost Giants.
    • The video game Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment: What would happen when a glitch interrupts the death duel between Kirito and Heathcliff, forcing the players to continue clearing to the 100th floor while some players from ALO arrive in SAO?
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human??: On the 56th floor, Asuna, Kirito, the Knights of Blood, and various other players were debating on the strategy they would use to fight the floor boss. Asuna proposed to use the nearby NPC villagers as a distraction while the players attacked the boss. Kirito refused to help, saying that the NPCs are alive and that they should choose another way. Everyone in the KoB laughed at him, but in the end, Asuna believed that he was right. This also forms the core theme in the Alicization arc.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In ALO, Leafa learns that the Salamanders are preparing to ambush the leaders of the Sylph and Cait-Sith races at their conference place. Leafa tells Kirito that it's in his best interest to cut her down and join the Salamanders, because if they successfully kill both leaders they'll obtain so much money that they should be able to successfully start challenging the World Tree. She even tells him that she understands and won't hold any grudge against him, but thinks to herself that she will likely never play ALO again if that happens.
    Leafa: This is a game after all, so anything can happen. If you want to kill, then you can kill; if there is something you want, then you can steal it.
    Kirito: ...People who've said that, I have met too many of them. On one level, that is true, and I used to think that way too. But it isn't right. Especially in a virtual world, there are some things that you must protect, no matter how stupid you look. I was taught that by a person very important to me... VRMMOs are called games, but this is a contradiction; splitting the player and the role is not a good idea. If you take on traits in this world, your personality in the real world will reflect those changes. Players and their character are one. I like Leafa, and I want to be your friend. No matter what the reason, I will not kill you to further my own self-interests, absolutely not!
  • Win to Exit: Unless the final boss of SAO is defeated, players will remain trapped in the virtual world until they die one way or another.
  • World Tree: The setting of Volume 3 has one, which holds the goal of the game, called Yggdrasil. Unsurprising, since its setting heavily relies on Nordic terminology.
  • Worth Living For: Kirito, when paralyzed and being stabbed by Ax-Crazy Kuradeel, thinks of Asuna and moves his hand to try to stop the blade. That doesn't work. But Asuna pulls a minor Reality Warper with the Power of Love to come in and save Kirito with an antidote/healing crystal.
  • Worthy Opponent: Many of Kirito's opponents, such as General Eugene, become this. Kirito usually doesn't hold any grudges, either.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: In the "Caliber" sidestory in Volume 8, thanks to his experience as a gamer, Kirito fully expects NPC Freya, who's conveniently locked in a cell while looking for her treasure in the Frost Giant castle, to double-cross them. Except that the quest is based on Norse Mythology, specifically a legend in which Thor infiltrates the Frost Giant stronghold disguised as Freya, to retrieve the stolen Mjolnir; NPC Freya becomes party ally NPC Thor when they fight the final boss.
    • Well, in a way he was right. Freya certainly was a trap.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: In A Murder Case in the Area we learn the story of Griselda, a sweet House Wife who was caught in the game alongside her husband Grimlock, then rose to the challenge of becoming a guildmaster. Bad thing? Grimlock has a Freak Out due to both the stress and seeing that she was more successful and independent than he thought she was, so he killed her.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: In Volume 9, beginning the Alicization arc, Kirito has a part-time job as a beta tester for a new VRMMO that uses time acceleration: several weeks in-game are a weekend in the real world... at least at first. In the non-canon sidestory after Alicization ends, Kirito and harem spend fifty thousand hours (5 years 8 months) on an in-game honeymoon, while five hours pass in the real world.
    • However even those 5 years pale in comparison to the Two Hundred years Asuna and Kirito spend in the Underworld at the conclusion of Alicization, with an FLA of 5 million.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: It's mostly averted in SAO; because the NerveGear scans the player's face and body, which is loaded as the avatar, most players — who are Japanese — don't have the complexions to match exotic hair colors. Only a few players have exotic hair colors, and changing color requires getting dye items from a monster drop.
    • Played straight in ALO and GGO, which function closer to conventional MMORPGs. Hair color is completely customizable — Asuna and Shino have blue hair in ALO.
  • You Are Too Late:
    • In the (non-canon) bonus side story Caliber SS (Failure Side), the characters follow the events of Caliber and miss an important Event Flag, which results in their being unable to stop Alfheim from being attacked by the Frost Giants. It does, however, imply they will go on to battle the Big Bad before he can bring any more destruction and hopefully restore the world in the process.
    • Also played tragically straight in "Red-nosed Reindeer", when Kirito tries to find a rare mob that drops an item that can revive a dead player around Christmas time. He does, and manages to get it, but finds out that the item can only be used within 10 seconds of the player's death, about 6 months too late to save Sachi, who died back in June. He gives it to Klein in the hopes that he can save someone in the future.
      • On that note, the death of Sachi and the other Black Cats of the Full Moon. Kirito is fighting through the hoard of monsters with all his might, striking them down as fast as he can, but one by one, his comrades are killed in front of him, with Kirito just out of reach to save them.
  • You Shall Not Pass: These incidents happen from time to time, and are usually awesome.
  • Zerg Rush: The guardians of the World Tree employ this tactic. Yui later mentions after Kirito's first encounter with them that although individually they're rather weak, the sheer amount of them means they're as tough as an elite boss.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Kirito protects the other beta testers from being ostracized by taking all the hatred on himself. A fragmented playerbase wasn't going to kill any bosses.
  • Zettai Ryouiki:
    • Asuna's SAO outfit.
    • Silica also has this.
    • Leafa's ALO outfit also sports these.

Soul EaterCreator/David ProductionTari Tari
Summer WarsCreator/Tatsunoko ProductionTales of Symphonia
Star DriverCreator/MadhouseSpace Battleship Yamato 2199
Highschool of the DeadGigguk ListPanty & Stocking with Garterbelt
SwanGaming and Sports Anime and MangaTaishou Yakyuu Musume
Rinne no LagrangeCreator/Studio Trigger    
Spice and WolfCreator/Yen PressUmineko: When They Cry
    Creator/Marc DiraisonBerserk
Star DriverCreator/XebecTari Tari
Silver SpoonCreator/Aniplex USAVividred Operation
Star DriverCreator/HuluTai Chi Chasers
Summer WarsMadmanEntertainment/Anime and MangaSword of the Stranger
The Super Hero Squad ShowCreator/ABC 3 Total Drama
Silver SpoonCreator/A- 1 PicturesTsuritama
Super Robot Wars GaidenUsefulNotes/Play Station PortableSyphon Filter
Star Wars: The Clone WarsCreator/[adult swim]Sym-Bionic Titan
Shakugan no ShanaThe EpicThe Aeneid
Star Wars: The Clone WarsRecap/ToonamiKorgoth of Barbaria
Killer InstinctCreator/Erika HarlacherKill la Kill
SukishoLight NovelsTaishou Yakyuu Musume
Space Battleship Yamato 2199Anime of the 2010sTanken Driland
Switch!MangaSWOT

alternative title(s): Sword Art Online; Sword Art Online
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